Tips to improve your bow season
The 2018-19 hunting season is already underway in south Florida’s Zone A, and will soon be opening in the other three hunting zones. To make the most of your time afield, Becky Shuman, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) assistant deer program coordinator and biologist, offers the following tips about deer and hunting on Florida’s wildlife management areas.
“Before I ever set foot on a potential hunting area, I like to look at aerial imagery to find transitional zones between different habitat types,” Shuman said. “Deer like to bed during the day in areas with dense vegetation and move out into more open areas at night to feed. The edge between these habitats is a good place to catch deer heading to and from feeding areas at dusk and dawn.”
After Becky pinpoints a couple of spots she wants to scout, she checks it out on foot.
“I look for all types of deer sign – well-used game trails, tracks, scat, buck rubs and scrapes,” Shuman said. “You can tell a lot about the deer in the area without even using a game camera. Rubs not only indicate that bucks are in the area, but a line of them all on one side of the tree show the direction the buck was walking. Scrape lines also can indicate direction of movement, and the size of the scrape often correlates with the number of bucks using the area.”
Once she finds a spot that has a lot of deer sign, she then looks for the right tree to hang her stand.
“I look for a straight mature tree with some vegetation in front and behind it to break up my silhouette,” Shuman said. “I then can do a quick internet search to learn what the predominant wind direction is for that area in the fall and winter and position my stand so that it is downwind from where I think the deer are coming from. I also make tree stand safety a priority and inspect my tree stand, all safety devices and my fall-arrest system/full-body harness before each use.”
Florida has one of the largest WMA systems in the country at nearly 6 million acres. There’s a lot of opportunity and you can make hunting Florida’s public land even more rewarding by following this advice.
“Take the time to scout an area before the season opens, and try getting off the beaten path,” Shuman said. “With some of our WMAs, areas near roads and trails can get crowded, especially on weekends. Spending the extra time and effort to find the more remote locations can really pay off and add to your overall hunting experience.”
WMAs that don’t require a quota permit
Florida’s WMAs offer a wide range of hunting opportunities from quota/limited entry hunts, special-opportunity hunts, and public hunting areas where hunters can walk on to hunt. There are 59 public hunting areas statewide where hunters don’t need a quota permit to hunt some or all of the archery season. So, if you didn’t apply or get drawn for an archery quota hunt, don’t worry, ’cause there’s still plenty of hunting opportunity spread throughout the state. You can find those WMAs not requiring a quota permit during archery season at the bottom of this webpage: MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures.
To help you get ready, the FWC manages archery and shooting ranges across the state. Information on these public ranges is at MyFWC.com/Ranges. Also, the FWC offers a bowhunter education course and some classes are still available this fall. You can register and get more information about this course at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety.
For those new to hunting, you can get information about how to get started at MyFWC.com/NewHunter. Another great resource for teens and young adults is Bowhunting360.com. This website features articles and videos on stuff like how to shoot, hunting basics, scouting, shot placement and field dressing. It even has a bowhunting 101 checklist.
Bow season and the rut – best times to hunt
Besides hunting the rut, early bow seasons provide a great opportunity to take a mature whitetail and are among the best times to do so. In northwest Florida, bow seasons offer a different experience because bucks are still hangin’ out in their bachelor groups. Historically, during September the rut is in full swing southeast and west of Lake Okeechobee, and in the counties of Dixie, Levy, Nassau, Duval and St. Johns, so you really have an advantage when hunting there. Find out when the deer rut where you hunt by checking out the FWC’s updated rut map at MyFWC.com/Deer.
If you’ve followed some of Becky’s advice by doing your preseason homework and hunt a favorable wind, you have a good chance of success. Early in the season, before deer are subjected to significant hunting pressure, they are more active during daylight hours.
Season dates by zone
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 July 28 in Zone A.
This year, archery and crossbow seasons in Zone B start Oct. 13. Zone B’s northern boundary line is S.R. 50, the eastern border is U.S. 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, the southern boundary is S.R. 60 and the western boundary is Interstate 75.
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. 20 this year. In Zone C (east of that line), archery and crossbow seasons open Sept. 15.
License and permit requirements
Before you go, you need to make sure your license and required permits are up to date. To hunt during archery season, you may hunt only with a bow and you must have a Florida hunting license and an archery permit. During crossbow season, you may use either a crossbow or bow, but you must have a crossbow permit along with your hunting license. On WMAs, only hunters with a persons with disabilities crossbow permit are allowed to use crossbows during archery season. 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 study up on the rules and regulations for the area you wish to hunt. You can download these brochures at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures.
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.
But if you’re 15 years old or younger, 65 or older or have a resident persons with disabilities hunting and fishing certificate, you’re exempt from needing any of these licenses and permits.
Legal to take
During archery season and that part of crossbow season that runs concurrent with archery, you may take legal-to-take bucks (as defined by the regulations within the Deer Management Unit you’re hunting in) 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 may 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) or are exempt from the permit requirement. You may take two turkeys in a single day on private lands, but the two-bird combined fall-season limit still applies. The daily bag is one on WMAs, however, on many of them, you may take hen turkeys during the archery season. It’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County in the fall, and it’s illegal to shoot them while they’re on the roost, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when bait is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls.
Additional regulations you need to know
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 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 may not use dogs to hunt deer or turkeys, but you may use bird dogs if you’re quail hunting. To help you trail any wounded game, you may use a dog on a leash.
Here’s hoping your preparation and persistence pay off and wishing you a great hunting season. To keep informed of hunting opportunities and regulation changes, follow our “HuntFlorida” social media pages at Facebook.com/HGM.FWC and YouTube.com/HuntFloridaTV, and sign up to receive the monthly Hunting Hot Sheet. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!