Thus far, this deer season hasn’t been good to me as far as quantity goes, but thanks to a good friend who invited me to hunt with him on his lease, I did bag a very nice 7-pointer on New Year’s Day. What a way to start off the New Year! And believe me, that’s a great buck for a hunter like me, who’s spent the past 18 years hunting the flatwoods of Franklin County. But I still have plenty of room left in my freezer, so I’m not throwing in the towel just yet – after all, there are still lots of hunting days left in my neck of the woods.
So if you’re like me or if you live in the central or southern part of the state and you don’t mind hunting with a primitive weapon, then point your pickup truck north, because the Northwest Hunting Zone’s deer season’s still goin’ strong on private lands and most wildlife management areas (WMAs).
The second phase, if you will, of muzzleloading gun season runs Feb. 19 – March 1 in this part of the Panhandle. This unique late season, which occurs only in the Northwest Zone, was established to allow hunters the chance to hunt the rut that runs from late January through February in this part of the state.
A $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit is required to hunt during this season, where, on private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow.
On WMAs, this post-season’s referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Disabled Crossbow Permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 Archery Permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit.
The most common game to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and one antler must be at least five inches in length. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits and antler size for deer on WMAs can differ, so please consult the area brochure before you hunt.
Wild hogs are considered livestock on private lands, and because of this, they can be taken 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 selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the area’s brochure to make sure.
Gray squirrels and quail are two other game animals that are also legal to take during this time, and there’s a daily bag limit of 12 for each. During this period, bird dogs can be used to hunt quail, but that’s the only time when an unleashed dog may be used. Leashed dogs can, however, be used to track wounded game if necessary. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.
Bows and crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch. For hunting deer, muzzleloaders that fire single bullets must be at least .40-caliber. Muzzleloaders firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger.
Legal shooting hours are between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it’s illegal to use bait on WMAs.
Some things you can’t do during this late season include shooting swimming deer, using explosive or drug-injecting arrows, using muzzleloaders with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities and using or possessing modern firearms.
Seventeen of the WMAs in the Northwest Hunting Zone have the late archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 management area permit as well as your hunting license. Nine of those areas don’t require a quota permit during this period: Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell, Upper Chipola River and Yellow River WMAs.
Once you’ve decided where to hunt, grab that area’s brochure from the local tax collector’s office because dates, bag limits and rules and regulations can differ greatly for each area. For instance, on Tate’s Hell, you may take only bucks with a forked antler (new this year). And on Joe Budd, Wakulla and Robert Brent WMAs, which do require a quota permit, bucks must have at least three points on one side to be legal game.
Besides going to a tax collector’s office, you can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at www.wildlifelicense.com.
So if you’re like me and not ready for deer season to be over with, have no fear ’cause February’s here! Grab your favorite primitive weapon and head over to the Northwest Hunting Zone where the rut’s goin’ on hard and heavy.
Here’s hoping your persistence pays off. Take a kid hunting. If you don’t have any children, offer to take someone else’s; be a mentor. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!
Tony Young is the media relations coordinator for the FWC’s Division of Hunting and Game Management. You can reach him with questions about hunting at Tony.Young@MyFWC.com.