Plus, don’t miss Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days
February “Outta’ the Woods”
By Tony Young
“What I love most about using a muzzleloader is the extra challenge it provides – you only get one shot and you better make it count,” said Howard Tiller, retired high school teacher and Chipley, Florida, native. “The late muzzleloading season gives us Zone D hunters more opportunities to hunt deer while the rut is still going on after general gun season ends. Plus, there are fewer hunters in the woods during that time, which means less pressure.”
Tiller, who was introduced to hunting by his father at a young age, said he never misses hunting Zone D’s late muzzleloading gun season. The season, which only occurs in Zone D, extends deer hunting by a week after general gun ends and runs Feb. 20-26 on private lands. It was established to give hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which runs from mid-January through February in northwest Florida.
A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season. On private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. Of course, they’ll also need a hunting license, which costs residents $17 for an annual one – or folks might opt to purchase the five-year license for only $79.
In Zone D wildlife management areas, this post-season is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Specific dates vary by WMA, so consult each area’s brochure. 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
Deer and wild hogs are most commonly hunted during this season. Only legal bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and 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.
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 area brochure before you hunt.
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 limit, 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, check the area’s brochure to make sure.
During the late muzzleloader season on private lands and archery/muzzleloading gun season on WMAs, 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) that cannot be loaded from the breech. 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
Twelve of the WMAs in Zone D have a February archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of them, 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.
Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days
To all parents out there: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has established Feb. 4-5 as this year’s statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This weekend is specifically set up for children 15 and younger to hunt waterfowl, coots and common moorhens while being supervised by an adult (18 years or older). Only the kids may hunt; adults may only assist. Because only children 15 and younger may hunt during these two days, no licenses or permits are needed, including federal duck stamps. And if you’re not a duck hunter but your child is showing an interest in trying it, the FWC has brand new online information to assist new hunters – just visit MyFWC.com/NewHunter.
The FWC also has managed hunts at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area, STA 1W and Guana River WMA. These fun, family-oriented events include raffles, free food and great waterfowl hunting. No children are turned away from the hunts, so a quota permit is not necessary. For more information on the Guana River hunt, call 904-825-6877. For more information on the T.M. Goodwin and STA 1W hunts, call 321-726-2862.
The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling duck. Two can be canvasbacks, pintails, redheads or scaup, and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters, four eiders, four long-tailed ducks and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken, up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks. The taking of harlequin ducks is against the law.
The daily limit on coots and common moorhens is 15, and there’s a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.
Youngsters also may take light geese during Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This includes snow, blue and Ross’s geese; and there’s a 15-bird daily bag limit on any combination. Canada geese may be taken as well, and the daily bag limit on them is five.
Shotguns are the only firearms that kids are allowed to use, and they’re not permitted to use one larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined). Though not practical for duck hunting, bows and crossbows may also be used if your child is so inclined.
Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset, and waterfowl hunters may use only nontoxic shotgun shells. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various shot made from tungsten-alloy are permissible.
Retriever dogs, such as labs, may be used. Artificial decoys and manual or mouth-operated bird calls are not only legal but essential gear for duck hunters.
Prohibited methods of take
Scattering agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting is strictly forbidden. Feed, such as corn, wheat or salt, cannot be present where you’re hunting, nor can such baiting be used to attract birds, even if the bait is placed quite a distance away from where you’re hunting.
Some other things you can’t do while hunting waterfowl include using rifles, pistols, traps, snares, nets, sinkboxes, swivel guns, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosive substances, live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds and electrically amplified bird-call imitations. Shooting from an automobile or boat while under power is not illegal and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also is against the law.
The 2016-2017 hunting seasons are winding down, however, there are still great opportunities to get out there. This February, take time to enjoy the solitude of a late season Zone D muzzleloader hunt or introduce a young person to duck hunting during the statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days.