September “Outta’ the Woods”
By Tony Young
Hunting with a bow or crossbow is a great way to get a jump on the gun hunters. Bowhunters are allowed in the woods a month-and-a-half earlier and get that first crack at the deer. Plus, during archery season, you can also take antlerless deer, which really increases your chances of putting venison in the freezer.
Maybe that’s why bowhunting continues to be so popular in our state, accounting for more than 10 percent of all deer harvested, 15 percent of harvested does and 25 percent of the deer taken on wildlife management areas. Last year, more than 30,000 people bowhunted in Florida.
And along with hunting the rut, early bow seasons provide a great opportunity to take a trophy whitetail and arguably are among the best times to do so. In northwest Florida, it’s even better because bucks are still hangin’ out in their bachelor groups.
If you’re stealthy enough and have done your pre-season homework, you have a good chance of a nice one coming within shooting range of your bowhunting setup. In the early season, before the deer are under as much hunting pressure, they are more active during daylight hours. When gun season hits, you might not see that big ’un again for the rest of the year, except for maybe a picture of him taken from your trail camera in the middle of the night.
Season dates by zone
Hunting season always comes first in Zone A in south Florida.
The boundary line between zones A and C begins at the Gulf of Mexico and runs northeast through Charlotte Harbor and up the Peace River until it intersects with State Road 70. The line then follows S.R. 70, running east until it meets U.S. 441 north of Lake Okeechobee. It then follows U.S. 441 south, where it proceeds around the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The line then turns off U.S. 441 and onto S.R. 80 and runs just a few miles before turning east and following County Road 880, running just a few miles before joining back up with U.S. 98/441/S.R. 80/Southern Boulevard until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Archery and crossbow seasons south of that line started Aug. 1 in Zone A.
This year, archery and crossbow seasons in Zone B start Oct. 17, but there’s been a change to the western boundary line of Zone B. The western boundary used to be the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s been moved eastward and is now Interstate-75. However, the zone’s northern boundary line is still S.R. 50, the eastern border remains U.S. 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, and the southern boundary is still S.R. 60.
But that means all lands that were previously located in Zone B west of I-75 are now part of Zone C and, as a result, have earlier fall hunting season dates. This change was initiated by local hunters and landowners who wanted earlier season dates to better coincide with the rut.
The line that divides zones C and D begins at U.S. 27 at the Florida-Georgia state line (in Gadsden County) and runs south on U.S. 27 until it meets S.R. 61 in Tallahassee. From there, it follows S.R. 61, running south until it hits U.S. 319. There, the line follows U.S. 319, continuing south to U.S. 98; it then runs east along U.S. 98 until it gets to the Wakulla River, where the river becomes the line, heading south until it meets the St. Marks River and continues going downriver until it meets the Gulf.
If you hunt west of that line, you’re in Zone D, where archery and crossbow seasons begin on Oct. 24 this year. In Zone C (east of that line), archery and crossbow seasons open Sept. 19.
License and permit requirements
But, before you go, you need to make sure your license and required permits are up to date. To hunt during archery season, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and an archery permit. During crossbow season, you’ll need a hunting license and crossbow permit. If you’re a Florida resident, an annual hunting license costs $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months. Archery and crossbow permits are $5 each, and all deer hunters must have the $5 deer permit.
Anyone planning on hunting one of Florida’s many WMAs must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. And don’t forget to pick up the WMA rules and regulations brochure for the area you wish to hunt. You can get brochures at the closest tax collector’s office, or you can print them from MyFWC.com/Hunting under “WMA Brochures.”
You can obtain all the licenses and permits you’ll need at a county tax collector’s office, any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
Legal to take
During archery season and that part of crossbow season that runs concurrent with archery, you can take legal-to-take bucks (as defined by the regulations for the deer management unit in which you’re hunting) and antlerless deer, which are does and bucks with less than 5-inch antlers. You may never take spotted fawns. After archery ends, during the remaining portion of the crossbow season, you may only take legal-to-take bucks according to the specific DMU antler rules. The daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits for deer on WMAs can differ, so check the specifics of the area before you hunt.
You can hunt wild hogs on private lands 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. But on a few WMAs, bag and size limits do apply, so to be certain, check the brochure for the specific area.
In addition to hunting big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during archery and crossbow seasons, assuming you have a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents). You may take two turkeys in a single day on private lands, but the two-bird fall-season limit still applies, and the daily bag limit for turkeys is still one on WMAs. It’s illegal to shoot turkeys while they’re on the roost, over bait, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when bait is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls. In addition, it’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County in the fall.
If you’re hunting during the archery season, you may hunt only with a bow and you must have the archery permit. During crossbow season, you may use either a crossbow or bow, but you must have the crossbow permit. On WMAs, only hunters with a disabled crossbow permit are allowed to use crossbows during archery season. All bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases are permitted. For hunting deer, hogs and turkeys, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
As far as legal shooting hours go, you’re allowed to let your arrow or bolt fly between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. Except for turkeys, you’re permitted to take resident game over feeding stations on private property. It’s against the law to use bait on WMAs.
You can’t use dogs to hunt deer or turkeys, but you are allowed to use a dog on a leash to help you trail any wounded game.