There’s one thing good to say about the second wave of seriously cold temperatures that invaded the Sunshine State last week. It reminded us hunters that deer season is still going strong in parts of Florida.
General gun season remains open on private lands in zones B and D through Feb. 23. (Zone B is in mid-Florida, and Zone D includes Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties in Northwest Florida.) And then if you don’t mind hunting with a primitive weapon, Zone D’s late muzzleloading gun season runs a week longer until March 2. This unique late season, which occurs only in Zone D, was established to give hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which occurs from mid-January through February in the Panhandle.
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.
On wildlife management areas, this postseason is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders but not 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 muzzleloading gun permit.
The most common kinds of game to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and one antler must be at least 5 inches in length. If you’re hunting deer, make sure you have the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits and antler size for deer on WMAs can differ, so please consult the area brochure before you hunt.
Wild hogs aren’t considered game animals on private lands. Because of this, they can be taken year-round by most weapons with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there also are 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 check the area’s brochure to make sure.
No dogs may be used in the pursuit of deer during this season. However, leashed dogs can be used 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 a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and 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 season, you may use only muzzleloaders that take black powder or a non-nitro-cellulose substitute and are fired by wheel lock, flintlock or percussion cap ignition (including 209 primers). You may not use muzzleloaders that require smokeless powder or those with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities. For hunting deer, muzzleloaders that fire single bullets must be at least .40-caliber, and those firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger.
You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it’s illegal to do that on WMAs.
Twelve of the WMAs in Zone D have a late archery/muzzleloading gun season. If you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 management area permit as well. Ten of those areas don’t require a quota permit during this period: Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River WMAs. The two that do require a quota permit are Chipola River and Perdido River WMAs.
You can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at License.MyFWC.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 is still on.
As hunters, we all know that it’s nearly impossible to score every time we’re in the woods. But the thrill of the hunt lies in the appreciation of the woods, watching the wildlife and never knowing when that trophy animal might decide to show itself.
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.