Outta The Woods: By Tony Young
Media Relations Coordinator
Division of Hunting and Game Management
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Even though you can hardly tell – summer is officially over. Finally – the time of year we’ve been waiting for is here – football season – and the beginning of hunting season, specifically archery. Most of us have finished our preseason scouting, and we’ve hung our tree stands along well-traveled deer trails, hopefully next to a mature oak tree that’ll begin dropping acorns soon.
And to let some of you early-season hunters in on a little secret – not all acorns are created equal when it comes to white-tailed deer. Most of us have heard that deer prefer the acorns from a white oak tree, and if you can find one, great – but those oaks aren’t so common in Florida. The reason deer prefer white oak acorns is because they contain the least amount of tannic acid.
So, you might ask – of the other oak tree varieties, which acorns contain the least tannic acid? Besides the white oak, the next tree that produces acorns with the least amount of tannic acid is the water oak, which Florida has tons of. Next comes the red oak, black oak, burr oak, and lastly, which might surprise you, is the majestic live oak.
Just something to consider, which you may not have known, that you should sure keep in mind when deciding “where” to hang your deer stands.
Bowhunting continues to be very popular in our state, accounting for more than 10 percent of all deer harvested, 15 percent of harvested does and 25 percent of the deer taken on wildlife management areas (WMAs). Last year, nearly 26,000 people bowhunted in Florida.
Besides hunting the rut, archery season provides a great opportunity to take a trophy whitetail and is arguably one of the best times to do so. And in the Panhandle, it’s even better because bucks are still hangin’ out in their bachelor groups then. 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.
And a lot of the rutting that goes on in the Central Hunting Zone occurs during archery season – so your advantages are doubled when hunting those areas. During archery season, the rut’s in full swing in Nassau, Duval, Clay, Bradford, Dixie, Levy and Highlands counties, as well as on Seminole Forest WMA, Rock Springs Run WMA and Tosohatchee WMA.
After gun season starts and some hunters start running dogs, a lot of your mature bucks go nocturnal. You might not see that bigun’ again for the rest of the season, except for maybe a picture of ’em taken from your game-cam in the middle of the night.
Most of us already know the rules regarding archery season, but for those folks wishing to pull back on a string for the first time, or any hunters who are new to Florida, here are a few tips on what you can – and can’t do.
First off, Florida’s divided into three hunting zones, and you’ll need to know which zone you’ll be hunting in because season dates vary for each.
The season comes in first in the South Hunting Zone. Archery season begins Sept. 12 and ends Oct. 11 in that part of the state south of S.R. 70, which runs east-west through Manatee, DeSoto, Highlands, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
Next, it arrives in the Central Zone, which lies north of S.R. 70. In that zone, archery season runs Sept. 26 – Oct. 25.
Now the boundary between the Northwest and Central hunting zones is a bit more complicated, as it meanders through Leon, Jefferson and Wakulla counties.
The line starts on the Leon County/Georgia state line and runs south along S.R. 155. It turns east at U.S. 27 and goes just into Jefferson County, where it makes a turn south on S.R. 59. Continuing south on S.R. 59, it enters Wakulla County and turns west on U.S. 98 to the St. Marks River. At that point, the river separates the two hunting zones all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
If you hunt west of that line, you’re in the Northwest Hunting Zone. Archery season in that part of the Panhandle begins Oct. 17 and ends Nov. 15.
But before you go, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got your license and required permits up-to-date, unless you qualify for an exemption. To hunt during archery season, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and an archery permit. If you’re a Florida resident, an annual hunting license will cost you $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months.
The archery permit costs just $5 for all hunters, but those who’ve got one of the following licenses don’t need to purchase it ’cause it’s already included: lifetime sportsman’s, lifetime hunting, sportman’s 64 or older, gold sportsman’s, military gold sportsman’s or sportsman’s. If you have a resident senior citizen hunting and fishing or a resident disabled person hunting and fishing certificate, you also don’t need to buy the archery permit.
Anyone planning on hunting one of Florida’s many WMAs must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. Don’t forget to pick up the WMA brochure for the area you wish to hunt from your local tax collector’s office, because dates, bag limits and restrictions differ greatly on each area.
All the licenses and permits you’ll need can be obtained at county tax collectors’ offices, any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or clicking www.wildlifelicense.com/fl.
The most common game to take during archery season are deer and wild hog. During this period, deer of either sex can be taken, regardless of antler size (except for spotted fawns). The daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits for deer on WMAs can differ, so please check the specifics of the area before you hunt.
Wild hogs on private lands can be hunted 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 any hunting season except spring turkey. On a few WMAs, bag and size limits do apply, so be sure to check the brochure for the specific area to be certain.
In addition to hunting big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during archery season. Only one can be taken per day, and there’s a two-bird fall-season limit. It’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County during this period, and it’s illegal to shoot them while they’re on the roost, over bait, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when bait is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls.
If you’re quite the marksman, gray squirrel, quail and rabbit are three other game species legal to take during archery season. There’s a daily bag limit of 12 for each, although I doubt that’ll come into play for most of us.
Raccoons, opossums, coyotes, nutrias, skunks and beavers also may be taken during archery season, and there are no bag limits on any of these furbearers.
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.
Some things you can’t do during archery season include possessing firearms, using explosive or drug-injecting arrows and using bows equipped with electronic computational or laser sights.
You can’t use dogs to hunt deer, hogs or turkeys, but you can use bird-dogs if you’re quail hunting. Otherwise, the only time you can have a dog in the woods during archery season is if you have one on a leash and you’re using it to trail wounded game.
Additionally, in Miami-Dade County you’re not allowed to bowhunt from an airboat or even possess a bow while on one during archery season.
I hope I’ve helped answer any questions you might’ve had regarding the rules and regulations of archery season, because some of it can be a bit confusing. Here’s hoping all your preparation and persistence pays off and wishing you luck on taking that monster buck. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!
Click here for possible changes in deer hunting zones and season changes
Click for hunting regulations handbook