St. Vincent Island whitetail hunts
July “Outta’ the Woods”
By Tony Young
“St. Vincent Island is a wonderful place to take kids and other folks to show them what the real old Florida looked like,” Woody Eubanks, 38-year Bay County veteran fireman, said about the 12,490-acre national wildlife refuge.
Eubanks should know. For the past 27 years, he’s taken part in one of two white-tailed deer hunts offered on the undeveloped barrier island in northwest Florida’s Franklin County.
The first deer hunt is Nov. 16-18 and is an archery hunt. Only vertical bows may be used, unless a hunter has a Disabled Crossbow Permit, in which case a crossbow may be used as well.
During the second white-tailed hunt, hunters may use bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders. That hunt is Jan. 25-27, 2018. There are 250 permits available for each of the two hunts at a cost of $27.50 each.
Eubanks, a lifelong Panama City resident, said he’s done both hunts and has taken a deer every year.
“A big group of us firemen started off doing these hunts together, and over the years, a lot of ’em have dropped off for various reasons, except for my buddy Randy Rowell – he’s been hunting here with me for all 27 years,” Eubanks said. “And I first brought my son out here when he was just 8 years old. He loved it even then, and we’ve made it an annual father-son pilgrimage for 19 years now and don’t plan to stop.”
If you’d like to also experience the thrills and solitude of primitive hunting on St. Vincent Island, all you have to do is buy a permit in July.
Accessing the island
You can only get to St. Vincent Island by boat, and if you don’t bring your own, you can make a deal with one of the local charter captains to take you to the island and bring you back after the hunt. For a list of boat captains that offer this service, contact the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
“We used to take a shuttle boat to and from the island, but I’ve been trailering my own boat over from Panama City the past several years,” Eubanks said.
Did I mention it’s primitive?
The island has no electricity, so it’s all about primitive camping for three days. You’re allowed to have a small campfire, using only wood you bring with you or deadwood you find on the ground. Eubanks says he meets a lot of good people every year and enjoys sharing his camp cooking with them.
“I recommend bringing a bicycle to get to and from your hunting spot. Over the years, I’ve found that a three-speed beach comber type bike works best out there,” Eubanks said.
If you harvest any game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff will pick you and your animal up in one of their trucks. In addition, transportation to and from hunting spots and accommodations are available to hunters with disabilities.
Good game management
“The USFWS staff does an outstanding job, going out of their way to assist us hunters,” Eubanks said. “They’ve also done a great job managing the wildlife. Historically, there have been hundreds of hogs on the island, but due to current management activities, the population is estimated in the dozens.”
How to get a permit
If you’d like to purchase a permit for one or both of these primitive hunts, get the appropriate worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/License and clicking on “Limited Entry/Quota Hunts.” Once you’ve completed it, you may buy the permit at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or from any county tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, beginning 10 a.m. EDT on July 14. But you had better be quick, ’cause these permits are being offered first-come, first-served until they’re gone.
“I really like the fact that it’s a primitive hunt, and the good Lord willin’, I don’t plan to miss it,” Eubanks said. “If you’re looking for a great hunt in a truly beautiful remote place and don’t mind roughing it a bit, you will really enjoy St. Vincent Island. My only advice is to make sure you’re prepared for inclement weather, ’cause you never know what Mother Nature’s gonna throw at ya.”
One of the best ways to spend time afield with friends and family is through dove hunting. Because of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) created its Special-Opportunity Dove Club Program. It offers hunters the chance to experience exceptional dove hunting on the state’s best public dove fields.
Dove Club permits enable one adult and one youth (age 15 or younger) to hunt all scheduled dates of a dove field, and each hunter gets to take a daily bag limit of birds. New this year, hunters will now have the choice to apply as a “group” with up to three adult hunters. Permits cost $150 per adult hunter. All hunts take place on Saturdays from noon until sunset. Scheduled hunt dates and number of hunts vary between fields.
Last year, 1,303 birds were harvested from five fields. This coming season, there will be the same five special-opportunity dove fields scattered throughout the state from which to choose.
Five fields to choose from
Tenoroc Public Small Game Hunting Area in Polk County was the top producer last year with 382 birds taken. This year, there will be 13 Dove Club permits available to hunt the 50-acre field.
Hunters took 238 doves off Frog Pond North Public Small Game Hunting Area in Miami-Dade County. This year, there will be 23 Dove Club permits available to hunt the 120-acre field.
Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area in Putnam County has three fields that total about 125 acres with 30 Dove Club permits available. Last season, 309 doves were harvested there from just a six-day hunt.
Hunters harvested 299 birds from Allapattah Flats Public Small Game Hunting Area in Martin County, east of Lake Okeechobee. Thirteen Dove Club permits are available for the 100-acre field.
The remaining dove field is on Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in Lake County. It has 15 Dove Club permits available to hunt on 80 acres, where 75 doves were taken last season.
How to apply
Dove Club permits will be issued by random drawing during Phase I. That application period runs from 10 a.m. EDT on July 17 through July 27.
After obtaining the correct application worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/License and clicking on “Limited Entry/Quota Hunts,” you can apply for these season passes by filling out a single worksheet (with up to five dove field choices) and turning it in at any county tax collector’s office, license agent or by applying online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. During Phase I, hunters may be awarded a permit for only one dove field.
You can check the drawing results as early as July 31 by logging in to your customer account at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, and a pop-up message will let you know if you are successful. And any applicant who provides an email address will also be notified by email. If you are successful in getting drawn, you can pay for it online by clicking on the “Claim” link in the “Permit Applications” section of your customer account, or at any of the above mentioned license agents by Aug. 10.
Dove hunters online update
Brochures on these areas are available online at MyFWC.com/Dove. Also at that web address, beginning in late September, hunters will be able to find the most up-to-date harvest information on these five special-opportunity dove fields. The website is updated weekly throughout dove season.
So if you prefer the solitude of hunting whitetails on St. Vincent Island or if you’d like to join the FWC’s Dove Club, you need to get your permit in July.
Here’s wishing you luck in getting one or both of these great hunts!