Before you take to the woods check on the major changes to hunting regulations this year
Outta’ The Woods by Tony Young
Even though you can hardly tell, summer is officially over. Kids have returned to school, and hunting season’s already been going on for a month now in South Florida. Finally, the time of year we’ve been waiting for is upon us – the beginning of archery season.
Besides hunting the rut, archery season provides a great opportunity to take a trophy whitetail and arguably is one of the best times to do so. If you’re stealthy enough and have done your homework, you’ve got a good chance of having a nice one come within shooting range of your bowhunting setup.
Before you take to the woods though, there have been some major changes to hunting in Florida this year that I want to tell you about, including hunting zone modifications, the addition of a new, fourth zone and different hunting season dates.
Hunting season still comes in first in the South Hunting Zone, which, by the way, has been renamed Zone A and remains that part of the state south of State Road 70. Archery season there started back on July 31, and it actually just ended Aug. 29.
The state has a new hunting zone, made up in part by the Green Swamp Basin. This fourth zone, which previously was the southwest portion of the old Central Hunting Zone, is called Zone B and lies south of S.R. 50, west of U.S. 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, north of S.R. 60 and east of the Gulf of Mexico.
Zone B was created because the deer in that area have a much later breeding period. Archery season in this new zone will always begin on the third Saturday of October each year. This year, that falls on Oct. 16, and the season will run through Nov. 14.
The boundary line separating what used to be called the Northwest Hunting Zone (now Zone D) from the Central Zone (now Zone C) has been moved a little farther west.
The new line begins at U.S. 27 at the Gadsden County-Georgia state line and runs south on U.S. 27 until it meets S.R. 61 in Tallahassee. From there, it follows S.R. 61, running south until it hits U.S. 319. The line follows U.S. 319, continuing south to U.S. 98; it then runs east along U.S. 98 before turning south on Spring Creek Highway and continuing to the Gulf of Mexico.
If you hunt west of that line, you’re in Zone D, and changes to season dates there push opening day of archery back one week, so the season is Oct. 23 through Nov. 24 this year.
In Zone C, however, the archery season begins one week earlier than usual, and from now on will open on the third Saturday in September. This year, those dates are Sept. 18 to Oct. 17.
Beginning this year, besides the usual hunting license and archery permit that you need to hunt during archery season, you will also need a $5 deer permit to hunt deer in Florida.
During archery season, you can take deer of either sex, regardless of antler size (except for spotted fawns). The daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits for deer on wildlife management areas (WMAs) can differ, so check the area brochure before you hunt, and don’t forget that you need the $26 management area permit to hunt on WMAs.
You can hunt wild hogs on private lands year-round with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On a few WMAs, bag and size limits do apply so, again, check the brochure.
In addition to hunting big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during archery season, given you have a turkey permit, which, by the way, increased this year to $10 for residents and $125 for nonresidents. You may take only one turkey per day, and there’s a two-bird fall-season limit. But, it’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County in the fall.
Only bows may be used during archery season – no crossbows are allowed. Only hunters with a disabled crossbow permit are allowed to use crossbows during archery season. Bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases are permitted. For hunting deer, hogs and turkeys, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
As far as legal shooting hours go, you’re allowed to let your arrow fly between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. Except for turkeys, you’re permitted to take resident game over feed such as corn or soybeans on private property. It’s against the law to use bait on WMAs.