By Tony Young
Football season’s in full swing, and the 2009-10 hunting season’s starting to crank up. Archery season’s been going on in most of the state, and in this issue, I want to talk about three other seasons about to start: crossbow, muzzleloading gun and the first phase of dove.
Crossbow season occurs between archery and muzzleloading gun seasons in the South and Central hunting zones, lasting five days: Oct. 12-16 and Oct. 26-30, respectively. In the Northwest zone, it comes in later, on the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30), and lasts one week through Dec. 6.
This season’s for any hunter who’d like to use a crossbow or continue using a bow on private lands. This is not just for disabled hunters. Crossbow season doesn’t apply to most wildlife management areas (WMAs), however.
The most common game to take during crossbow season will be deer and wild hog. Only bucks may be taken, and one antler must be at least 5 inches long above the hairline. The daily bag limit on antlered deer is two. Wild hogs on private lands may, with landowner permission, be hunted year-round with no bag or size limits.
It’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during crossbow season. Only one may be taken per day, and there’s a two-bird fall-season limit. But you can’t hunt turkeys in Holmes County during the fall and winter.
Crossbows and bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases on bows are permitted. For hunting deer, hog and turkey, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
Legal shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Except for turkeys, hunters may take resident game over feed such as corn on private lands.
Some things you can’t do during crossbow season include hunting deer, hog or turkey with dogs, using explosive or drug-injecting arrows, and possessing firearms.
Immediately following the close of crossbow season in the South and Central hunting zones is the beginning of muzzleloading gun season. Season dates run Oct. 17-25 and Oct. 31 – Nov. 8, respectively. Muzzleloading season comes in later in the Northwest zone and runs Nov. 20-22.
During muzzleloading gun season, bows and crossbows are legal methods of taking game on private lands, along with muzzleloaders. On WMAs, only muzzleloaders may be used.
Legal shooting hours are the same for muzzleloading gun season as crossbow season. And, legal game, including bag limits and prohibited methods for taking game, also are the same as crossbow season. Bag limits and antler/size restrictions for game on WMAs can differ, so check the specifics of the area before you hunt.
For hunting deer, muzzleloaders firing single bullets must be at least .40-caliber. Guns firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger. You may not use muzzleloaders with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities or possess modern firearms during muzzleloading gun season.
The first phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season begins Oct. 3 and ends Oct. 26 statewide. Shooting hours during this first phase are noon to sunset, and there’s a 15-bird daily bag limit.
The only firearm you’re allowed to hunt doves with is a shotgun, but you can’t use one larger than a 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).
You may hunt doves over an agricultural field, as long as the crop’s been planted and manipulated under normal agricultural practices. However, it’s against the law to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting.
Some things you can’t do while dove hunting are use rifles, pistols or crossbows; shoot from a moving vehicle; or herd or drive doves with a vehicle.
In addition to a Florida hunting license, you’ll need a $5 crossbow permit to hunt during crossbow season. A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is needed to hunt during muzzleloader season, and you’ll need a no-cost migratory bird permit if you’re going to hunt doves. If you hunt on a WMA, you must have a management area permit that costs $26.50.
All are available at county tax collectors’ offices or license agents or by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or clicking www.wildlifelicense.com/fl.
So if you’re going after that monster buck during the crossbow and muzzleloading gun seasons or dove hunting with friends and family, I hope I’ve helped explain the rules and regulations on some of Florida’s hunting seasons.