February “Outta’ the Woods”
By Tony Young
There’s still time to head to Florida woods to enjoy the cooler weather and seek deer. General gun season remains open on private lands in Zones B and D through Feb. 21. In Zone D, those who hunt with a bow, crossbow or muzzleloader get an additional week ̶ from Feb. 22-28 ̶ to participate in a late muzzleloading gun season. This unique late season, which occurs on private land only in Zone D, was established to give hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which occurs from mid-January through February in the Florida Panhandle.
A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season. Of course, you’ll also need a hunting license, which costs residents $17 for an annual one – or you might opt to purchase the five-year license for only $79.
On wildlife management areas, this post-season is 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.
Legal to take; bag limits
The most common things to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only legal bucks may be taken, even if you use a bow. South of Interstate 10 in Deer Management Unit-D1, one antler must have at least two points. North of I-10 in DMU-D2, all bucks must have at least three points on a side or have a main beam of at least 10 inches long to be legal to take.
And if you’re hunting deer, make sure you have the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Season dates, bag limits and antler regulations for deer on WMAs can differ, so consult the wildlife management area brochure at MyFWC.com/Hunting before heading out.
On private lands, wild hogs 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 again, please check the area’s brochure to make sure.
During this season, dogs may not be used to hunt deer. However, you may use a leashed one to track a wounded deer if necessary. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.
Bows and crossbows must have minimum draw weights of 35 pounds. 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.
During this late season, the only muzzleloaders allowed are those fired by wheel lock, flintlock, percussion cap or centerfire primer (including 209 primers). Muzzleloaders that can be loaded from the breech are not legal during this time. For hunting deer, muzzleloading rifles must be at least .40-caliber, and muzzleloading shotguns 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 is illegal to use such feed on WMAs.
Public hunting opportunity
In Zone D, 12 of the WMAs have a February archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 management area permit. Those areas are Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Perdido River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River.
You can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
So if you’re not quite ready to give up on deer hunting, have no fear, ’cause February’s here! Grab your favorite primitive weapon and head over to Zone D, where the rut and hunt are still on.
Tony Young looks forward each year to hunting Zone D’s late muzzleloading season, because the deer are still in rut on a couple of properties he hunts.
Media contact: Tony Young, 850-488-7867