December “Outta’ the Woods” by Tony Young
There’s a chill in the Florida air, and soon children will be out of school on winter break. During the holidays, I encourage you to take time off from work and spend some quality time with family and friends in the great outdoors. This much-needed vacation allows us to unplug from our usual daily grind and join millions of Americans in our connection with nature and pursuit of our favorite game animals. Hunting during the holidays is such a longstanding tradition in our country, which allows hunters to participate in the management and conservation of wildlife while putting healthy, free-range protein on our family’s dinner table.
In this column, I go over a couple of hunting seasons that begin in December – the second phase of waterfowl and coot; and the third phase of mourning and white-winged dove.
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. That license allows you to hunt and fish in Florida for the rest of your life, even if you move away and aren’t a resident any more. Think about that as a possible holiday gift for your outdoors family member!
All licenses and permits you’ll need are available at county tax collectors’ offices, at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA.
Waterfowl and coot season
The second phase of the waterfowl and coot season comes in statewide Dec. 10 and runs through Jan. 29. In addition to previously mentioned license and permit requirements, duck hunters also must get a Florida waterfowl permit ($5) and a federal duck stamp.
The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but you need to know your ducks before you pull the trigger because there are different daily limits for each species. For instance, within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling-duck.
Only two of your six-bird limit can be canvasbacks, pintails, scaup or redheads; 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 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. 10 – Jan. 29), 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 shotgun shells. No lead shot can be used or even be in your possession – only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten alloys are permissible.
And in the Tallahassee area, I need to point out some outboard motor restrictions and a prohibition against hunting in permanent duck blinds:
On Lake Iamonia and Carr Lake (both in Leon County), the use of airboats and gasoline-run outboard motors is prohibited during the regular waterfowl and coot seasons.
The maximum allowed horsepower rating on outboard motors during the regular waterfowl and coot seasons on Lake Miccosukee in Leon and Jefferson counties is 10 hp.
You may not hunt from or within 30 yards of a permanent duck blind structure on the four Tallahassee-area lakes of Jackson, Iamonia, Miccosukee and Carr. You’re allowed to pack in a portable blind and hunt from it, but make sure to break it down and take it with you when you’re done. However, there’s no problem hunting within the concealment of any natural, rooted vegetation.
The third phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season always runs Dec. 12 through Jan. 15. The daily bag limit is 15.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) even provides an online “Dove Hunters’ Hotline” that gives up-to-date information on Florida’s public dove fields. The web address is MyFWC.com/Dove, and it’s updated every Thursday throughout the dove season. Information includes dove densities, previous weeks’ harvests and field conditions.
Migratory bird hunting regulations
Shooting hours for all migratory birds, including ducks, coots, geese, woodcock and doves, are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
The only firearm you are 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 can be used to take migratory game birds and, if you’re up for the challenge, you may even use a bow or crossbow. Artificial decoys, as well as manual or mouth-operated bird calls, also are legal and essential gear for duck hunters. Birds of prey can even be used to take migratory birds by properly-permitted falconers.
You may hunt doves over an agricultural field, as long as the crop has been planted by regular agricultural methods. However, you’re not allowed to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting.
This also holds true when you’re hunting waterfowl and woodcock. 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 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 can’t do while hunting migratory game birds 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 a moving automobile or boat, and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also are against the law.
Whether dove hunting with friends and family or shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab – December has you covered.
Here’s wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season. If you can, remember to introduce someone new to our great sport. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll talk at you next year.