Outta The Woods by Tony Young
Better start brushing up on your turkey calling, because spring gobbler season is here. Whether you prefer to use a mouth call, box call, slate or any combination, March means it’s time to start talkin’ turkey.
Youth hunters are sure to benefit from a new rule passed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that established a two-day Youth Spring Turkey Hunt on private property the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season in each hunting zone. In Zone A (south of State Road 70), that weekend was Feb. 26-27. In the rest of the state, that weekend falls on March 12-13.
Only those under 16 years old are allowed to harvest a turkey while supervised by an adult, 18 years or older. No license or permit is required of the youth or supervising adult, unless the adult plans to help “call-in” the bird or otherwise participate in the hunt. But adults are not allowed to do the shooting – only the kids may harvest a bird.
For safety reasons, the FWC passed another rule that limits the methods of take allowed during spring turkey hunts on wildlife management areas (WMAs), beginning with this spring turkey season. The new rule restricts firearms to shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns only, using shot no larger than No. 2. All legal bows and crossbows can also be used unless a particular WMA doesn’t allow them. But all rifles, pistols, buckshot and slugs are now prohibited during spring turkey hunts on WMAs.
This new rule does not apply to private property, where any legal rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol can still be used to take turkeys.
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 only on the Florida peninsula and nowhere else in the world, making it extremely popular with out-of-state hunters. They’re similar to the Eastern subspecies (found in the Panhandle) but tend to be a bit smaller and typically are darker with less white barring on the primary flight feathers of their wings.
The National Wild Turkey Federation and the FWC recognize 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 these counties and into the Panhandle.
The highly anticipated spring turkey season runs March 5 to April 10 in Zone A and March 19 to April 24 in the rest of the state: zones B, C and D. The exception is Holmes County, where the season runs March 19 to April 3.
Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit is one. The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where the season limit is one.
Shotguns are the best choice when hunting turkeys, but if you’re so inclined, you may use a rifle, muzzleloader or handgun, 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 bird, but you’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, shoot them while they’re on the roost or over bait. You also can’t hunt them when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.
To participate in spring turkey hunting, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and a turkey permit. If you plan to pursue a gobbler on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you also must purchase a management area permit.
All of these licenses and permits are available at county tax collectors’ offices, most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com.
If you didn’t put in for a special-opportunity or quota permit, don’t worry. Several WMAs don’t require them. Visit MyFWC.com/Hunting and, under “This Month’s Hunting Opportunities,” click on “Spring turkey: Where to hunt without a quota permit” to see a list of WMAs where you need only a hunting license, management area permit and turkey permit to hunt spring turkeys.
Whether going solo after that elusive old tom or double-teaming a pair of birds with your buddy, March means spring gobbler season is here.