Outta The Woods: Time to talk turkey

March 3, 2009

tonyyoung Florida turkey season is here

If you haven’t already started, it’s time to brush up on your turkey calling, ’cause spring gobbler season’s here.  Whether you prefer to use a mouth call, box call, slate or any combination, March means it’s time to start talkin’ turkey.

One of the most coveted and sought-after game species in Florida is the Osceola turkey, also known as the Florida turkey.  This unique bird is one of five subspecies of wild turkey in North America.

The Osceola lives on the Florida peninsula and nowhere else in the world, making it extremely popular with out-of-state hunters.  It’s similar to the eastern subspecies (found in the Panhandle) but tends to be a bit smaller and typically a darker shade with less white barring on the flight feathers of its wings.

The white bars on the Osceola are more narrow, with an irregular, broken pattern, and they don’t extend to the feather shaft.  It’s the black bars of the Osceola that actually dominate the feather.  In conjunction, secondary wing feathers also are darker.  When the wings are folded across the back, the whitish triangular patch formed is less visible on the Osceola.  Osceola feathers also show more iridescent green and red colors, with less bronze than the eastern.

The National Wild Turkey Federation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recognize, in their respective turkey registry programs, any wild turkey harvested within or south of the counties of Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Union, Bradford, Clay and Duval, to be the Osceola subspecies.  Eastern turkeys and hybrids are found north and west of those counties in the Panhandle.

The highly anticipated Spring Turkey Season comes in first in the South Hunting Zone and runs March 7 – April 12.  In the Central and Northwest hunting zones, except for Holmes County, it runs March 21 – April 26.  In Holmes County, the season runs March 21 – April 5.

Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit’s one.  The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where the season limit’s one.

Shotguns are your best choice when hunting turkeys, but if you’re so inclined, you may use other firearms, including rifles, muzzleloaders and handguns, or you can try your luck with a bow or crossbow.

Shooting hours on private lands are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but on wildlife management areas (WMAs), you must quit hunting at 1 p.m.

Of course, you can use turkey decoys to help entice that stubborn old tom, but you’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot them while they’re on the roost, over bait or when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.

Besides a hunting license, you’ll need to buy a turkey permit.  For Florida residents, that costs $5.  For all the out-of-staters seeking an Osceola to complete their “Grand Slam,” the permit costs $100.

If you plan to pursue a gobbler on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.  Don’t forget to obtain a WMA brochure for the area you wish to hunt at MyFWC.com/hunting or from local tax collectors’ offices, because dates and rules can differ for each area.

Florida offers numerous public hunting areas, and if you didn’t apply or get drawn for a special-opportunity or spring turkey quota permit, don’t fret ’cause there are several WMAs that don’t require them.  With a hunting license, management area permit and turkey permit, you may spring turkey hunt on the following areas:

Osceola turkeys inhabit these areas

Arbuckle WMA – 13,531 acres in Polk County.  Season runs March 24-26 and April 7-9.  There are 10 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.  Camping allowed only by permit from the Division of Forestry by calling 863-635-7801.

Big Bend WMA-Jena Unit – 12,522 acres in Dixie County.  A no-cost, daily use permit is required and available at the check station.

Big Cypress WMA – 565,848 acres in Collier, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.  Season runs March 7 – April 12.  Camping allowed.

Bull Creek WMA – 23,646 acres in Osceola County.  Camping allowed.

Devil’s Hammock WMA – 7,635 acres in Levy County.  Season runs March 21-29.  There are 15 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.

Green Swamp WMA – 49,768 acres in Polk, Sumter and Lake counties.  Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first weekend, but there are 200 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis for the remainder of season.  Camping allowed only by special permit from the FWC.

J.W. Corbett WMA – 60,288 acres in Palm Beach County.  Season runs March 7 – April 12, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays only.  Camping allowed.

Jumper Creek WMA – 10,552 acres in Sumter County.  Camping allowed.

Kissimmee River Public Use Area – 23,433 acres in Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Osceola and Polk counties.  Area is split between Central and South hunting zones.  When hunting the South Zone, the season runs March 7 – April 12.  For camping information only, call the South Florida Water Management District at 800-250-4200, ext. 3019.  Management area permit not required.

Lochloosa WMA – 11,149 acres in Alachua County.  Camping allowed only by permit from St. Johns River Water Management District; call 386-329-4404.

Log Landing WMA – 1,147 acres in Dixie County.

Richloam WMA – 58,146 acres in Hernando, Pasco, Sumter and Lake counties.  Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first nine days, but those without one may hunt the remainder of the season, March 21 through April 26.  Camping allowed only by permit from Division of Forestry; call 352-754-6896.

Three Lakes WMA – 54,628 acres in Osceola County.  Camping allowed.

Upper Hillsborough WMA – 5,178 acres in Polk and Pasco counties.  Wednesdays and Thursdays only.  There are 75 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.  Camping allowed.

Upper St. Johns River Marsh WMA – 124,623 acres in Brevard and Indian River counties.  Camping allowed.

Eastern turkeys inhabit these areas

Apalachicola National Forest – 581,837 acres in Franklin, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.  Camping allowed.

Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area – 86,140 acres in Franklin and Gulf counties.  Camping allowed.  Management area permit not required.

Aucilla WMA – 47,532 acres in Jefferson and Taylor counties.  Camping allowed.

Big Bend WMA:
Hickory Mound Unit – 14,427 acres in Taylor County.  A no-cost, daily use permit is required and available at the check station.

Snipe Island Unit – 11,687 acres in Taylor County.  Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first 16 days, but those without one may hunt the remainder of the season, April 6 – April 21.

Spring Creek Unit – 14,600 acres in Taylor County.

Tide Swamp Unit – 19,538 acres in Taylor County.  A no-cost, daily use permit is required and available at the check station.

Blackwater WMA – 191,148 acres in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties.  Camping allowed.

Eglin Air Force Base – 265,000 acres in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.  Hunting and camping allowed only by permit from Jackson Guard Natural Resource Office by calling 850-883-1152.  Only shotguns, bows and muzzleloaders are legal.

Escambia River WMA – 34,476 acres in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.  Camping allowed.

Joe Budd WMA – 11,039 acres in Gadsden County.  Saturdays and Sundays only.  There are 20 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.  Hunters may use bows and muzzleloaders only.  Camping allowed.

Lower Econfina River WMA – 2,837 acres in Taylor County.  Season runs March 21-29.

Mallory Swamp WMA – 29,463 acres in Lafayette County.  Season runs March 21 – April 5.

Ochlockonee River WMA – 2,790 acres in Leon County.  Saturdays and Sundays only.  Only shotguns, bows and muzzleloaders are legal.

Osceola WMA – 266,270 acres in Baker and Columbia counties.  Camping allowed.

Pine Log WMA – 6,911 acres in Bay and Washington counties.  Season runs March 21 – April 5.  Camping allowed.

Point Washington WMA – 12,414 acres in Walton County.

Santa Fe Swamp Wildlife and Environmental Area – 5,627 acres in Bradford County.  Only bows and muzzleloaders are legal.

Steinhatchee Springs WMA – 20,909 acres in Lafayette, Dixie and Taylor counties.  Season runs March 21 – April 12.  There are 40 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis to hunt the first nine days.

Talquin WMA – 3,053 acres in Leon County.  Saturdays and Sundays only.

Twin Rivers WMA – 9,288 acres in Madison, Hamilton and Suwannee counties.  Season runs March 27-29 and April 17-19.  There are 12 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.

Upper Chipola River WMA – 7,377 acres in Jackson County.  Camping allowed only by permit from Northwest Florida Water Management District; call 850-539-5999.

If you take a turkey with an 11-inch beard or greater and 1¼-inch spurs or longer, get your name listed in the FWC’s Wild Turkey Registry by applying for an “Outstanding Gobbler Certificate.”  There’s also a “First Gobbler Certificate” awarded to hunters under age 16 who harvest their first gobbler, regardless of beard or spur measurements.  Applications for both are available here.

Whether going solo after that elusive old tom or double-teaming a pair of birds with your buddy, March means spring gobbler season’s here.

Here’s wishing all of you a successful Spring Turkey Season.  Remember to introduce someone new to the sport of hunting when you can.  As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!

CLICK HERE FOR SPRING TURKEY GUIDE

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.