Changes to mallard bag limits and applying for public dove hunting opportunities
December brings cooler weather and with that comes wintering migratory birds just in time for the start of the second phase of the waterfowl/coot season and the third phase of mourning and white-winged dove.
Duck hunters should be aware the daily bag limit for mallards has been reduced to two birds, of which only one may be female.
“Since 1998, mallard populations in eastern North America have steadily declined approximately 20%. Over the same period, mallard harvest in the U.S. portion of the Atlantic Flyway has decreased by about 40%,” said Andrew Fanning, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Waterfowl and Small Game Program coordinator.
“Current data suggests eastern mallards can no longer support a 60 day, four-bird daily bag limit. A recent survey indicates hunters value more hunting days over larger bag limits, so the Atlantic Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose to reduce the daily bag limit rather than the season length,” Fanning said.
Other wingshooters should be aware of a change in applying for opportunities at the FWC’s public dove hunting fields that is expected to maximize participation. The hunts are on the same special-opportunity dove fields, but the permit cost has been eliminated.
“Each dove field manager was provided the choice of how to arrange the permitting to maximize participation on their respective dove field,” Fanning said. “Some fields have dove quota permits for all three of the hunting phases, some only have permits for phase one, and Allapattah Flats removed all permitting requirements.”
License and permit requirements
The first thing you’ll need to participate in these hunting opportunities is a Florida hunting license. Residents pay just $17 for the year. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months. You also need a no-cost migratory bird permit. And if you plan to hunt one of Florida’s many wildlife management areas, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.
Or, you may opt to get a Lifetime Sportsman’s License. This license allows you to hunt and fish in Florida for the rest of your life, even if you move away. It’s also a great holiday gift idea for family members who appreciate the outdoors.
All licenses and permits you need are available online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, at county tax collectors’ offices or license agents, or by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (888-486-8356).
Waterfowl and coot season
The second phase of the waterfowl and coot season opens statewide Dec. 7 and runs through Jan. 26. In addition to previously mentioned license and permit requirements, duck hunters must get a Florida waterfowl permit ($5) and a federal duck stamp ($28).
The daily bag limit for ducks is six, but you need to know your ducks before heading afield because there are different daily limits for some species. For instance, within the six-bird limit there may be only one mottled duck, one pintail and one fulvous whistling-duck.
Only two of your six-bird limit may be mallards (of which only one may be female), canvasbacks, black ducks, scaup or redheads; and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters, four eiders and four long-tailed ducks in your bag. All other species of ducks may be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks. It is prohibited to take harlequin ducks.
The daily limit on coots is 15, and there’s a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.
You also may take light geese statewide during the waterfowl and coot season (Dec. 7 – Jan. 26), which includes the taking of snow, blue and Ross’s geese. There’s a 15-bird daily bag limit on any combination of these geese.
When hunting ducks, geese or coots, hunters may use only nontoxic shot. No lead shot may be used or even be in your possession – only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten alloys are permissible.
And in the Tallahassee area, waterfowl hunters need to be aware of special regulations – Wednesday/Saturday/Sunday-only hunting, outboard motor restrictions, and a prohibition against hunting from permanent duck blinds. Go to MyFWC.com/Hunting/Regulations/Birds and read the sections on “Limited hunting days” and “Special regulations for Leon County and Lake Miccosukee” for more details.
Waterfowl hunting guide
Check out the FWC’s Guide to Waterfowl Hunting in Florida at MyFWC.com/Duck. It’s a valuable tool for beginning waterfowl hunters, but experienced waterfowlers will appreciate it, too. It lists public duck hunting areas, illustrates several decoy placement setups, gives scouting and hunting tips, and provides outstanding duck identification photos of most duck species you’re likely to see in Florida.
The third phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season runs Dec. 19 through Jan. 31. The daily bag limit is 15. Check out the FWC’s dove hunting webpage at MyFWC.com/Dove for information on all FWC-managed dove fields and also tips on hunting doves.
Migratory bird hunting regulations
Shooting hours for waterfowl/coot season and dove season are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
The only firearm you’re allowed to hunt migratory game birds with is a shotgun, although you’re not permitted to use one larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns also must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).
Retrievers and bird dogs may be used when hunting migratory game birds. Artificial decoys and manual or mouth-operated bird calls also are legal gear for duck hunters. Birds of prey may even be used to take migratory birds by properly-permitted falconers.
You may hunt doves over an agricultural field so long as the grain has been distributed or scattered solely as a result of a normal agricultural operation. However, you’re not allowed to introduce grain or other feed over an area for the purpose of luring birds.
Baiting rules are even more restrictive for ducks, geese and coots. You cannot legally hunt waterfowl over manipulated agricultural crops except after the field has been subject to a normal harvest and removal of grain. However, you may hunt waterfowl in fields or flooded fields of unharvested standing crops. On lakes and rivers, feed – such as corn or wheat – may not be used to attract birds, even if the bait is quite a distance from where you’re hunting. And it doesn’t matter if you aren’t the one who scattered the bait. If you knew or should have known bait was present, you’re breaking the law.
Some other things you may not do while hunting migratory game birds include using live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds, and electrically amplified bird-call imitations. Shooting from a moving automobile or boat and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also are against the law.
Whether shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab or dove hunting with friends and family – December has you covered.
Here’s wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season. If you can, remember to introduce someone new to hunting. As always, have fun, hunt safely and responsibly, and we’ll talk at you next year.