March “Outta’ the Woods” by Tony Young
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Florida’s wildlife management area system – one of the state’s greatest natural treasures. Florida established its first WMA, Babcock/Webb, in 1941. Since then, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has partnered with public and private landowners to grow these areas to nearly 6 million acres, giving Florida one of the largest public hunting systems in the country. WMAs are managed for conservation and recreation. This spring, there are many that allow hunting during the Youth Turkey Hunt Weekend and also during the regular spring turkey season. Florida is the only state with Osceola wild turkeys, and hunters can pursue that subspecies as well as eastern wild turkeys.
Youth Turkey Hunt Weekend
Youth hunters can take part in the two-day youth spring turkey hunt, which occurs on private lands and on 79 WMAs the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season. South of State Road 70, that youth weekend was Feb. 25-26. Above S.R. 70 in the rest of the state, that weekend falls on March 11-12. Only those 15 years old and younger are allowed to harvest a turkey while supervised by an adult, 18 years or older.
Walk-in youth turkey hunt areas
These 23 WMAs do not require a youth spring turkey quota permit: Apalachicola, Aucilla, Big Bend – Spring Creek Unit, Big Bend – Tide Swamp Unit, Blackwater, Choctawhatchee River (only the south portion of the area), Escambia River, Herky Huffman/Bull Creek, J.W. Corbett, Joe Budd, Jumper Creek, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Kissimmee River, Lake Monroe, Lochloosa, Log Landing, Lower Econfina River, Middle Aucilla, Osceola, Richloam, Steinhatchee Springs, Three Lakes and Upper St. Johns River Marsh.
Spring turkey season
Spring turkey season south of S.R. 70 always begins the first Saturday in March. This year it is March 4, running through April 9. In the rest of the state (except for Holmes County), it always opens the third Saturday of March, with this year being March 18 through April 23. In Holmes County, the season is March 18 through April 2.
Walk-in public hunting areas
These WMAs don’t require a quota to hunt some or all of the spring turkey season:
Osceola turkeys inhabit these areas
Big Bend WMA – Jena Unit – 11,651 acres in Dixie County.
Big Cypress WMA – 728,274 acres in Collier, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Quota permit required to hunt in the Addition Unit only. Camping allowed.
Devil’s Hammock WMA – 7,600 acres in Levy County. Season runs March 18-26. There are 15 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis.
Green Swamp WMA – 50,692 acres in Polk, Sumter and Lake counties. Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first weekend, but there are 200 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis for the remainder of the season. Camping allowed only by special permit from the FWC.
Herky Huffman/Bull Creek WMA – 23,646 acres in Osceola County. Camping allowed.
J.W. Corbett WMA – 60,288 acres in Palm Beach County. Season runs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Allowed to hunt until sunset. Camping allowed.
Jumper Creek WMA – 10,552 acres in Sumter County. Camping allowed but only accessible by boat.
Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Area – 21,028 acres in Polk and Osceola counties. Allowed to hunt until sunset. Camping allowed first-come, first-served only at designated campsites. Management area permit not required.
Kissimmee River Public Use Area – 30,864 acres in Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Osceola and Polk counties. Area is split between turkey hunting zones. For camping information only, call the South Florida Water Management District at 866-433-6312, option 2. Management area permit not required.
Lake Monroe WMA – 3,098 acres in Volusia and Seminole counties.
Lochloosa WMA – 11,149 acres in Alachua County.
Log Landing WMA – 5,048 acres in Dixie, Gilchrist and Lafayette counties. Season runs March 18-19 and 24-26, March 31 – April 2, and April 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23.
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge – 55,000 acres in Dixie and Levy counties. Season runs March 18 – April 9. Management area permit not required, but hunters 16 and older must purchase Lower Suwannee NWR Hunting Permit.
Raiford WMA – 9,141 acres in Bradford and Union counties. Quota permit not required April 6-9. Only bows and muzzleloaders (including muzzleloading rifles) are allowed.
Richloam WMA – 58,146 acres in Hernando, Pasco, Sumter and Lake counties. Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first nine days, but those without one may hunt the remainder of the season. Camping allowed only by permit from the Florida Forest Service by calling 352-797-4140.
Santa Fe Swamp Wildlife and Environmental Area – 7,272 acres in Alachua and Bradford counties. Only bows and muzzleloaders (including muzzleloading rifles) are allowed.
Three Lakes WMA – 63,470 acres in Osceola County. There are 625 no-cost, daily quota permits available first-come, first-served at the following check stations: U.S. 44 – 375, Canoe Creek – 50, S.R. 60 – 200. Camping allowed.
Upper Hillsborough WMA – 5,178 acres in Polk and Pasco counties. Wednesdays and Thursdays only. There are 75 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis. Camping allowed.
Upper St. Johns River Marsh WMA – 120,386 acres in Brevard and Indian River counties. Camping allowed.
Eastern turkeys inhabit these areas
Apalachicola WMA – 581,290 acres in Franklin, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties. Camping allowed. A camping permit issued by Northwest Florida Water Management District is required when camping on that portion of the area.
Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area – 82,975 acres in Franklin and Gulf counties. Camping allowed, but camping permit required if camping in designated campground. Management area permit not required.
Aucilla WMA – 50,471 acres in Jefferson and Taylor counties. Camping allowed.
Big Bend WMA:
- Hickory Mound Unit – 14,427 acres in Taylor County.
- Snipe Island Unit – 11,687 acres in Taylor County. Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first 16 days, but those without one may hunt April 3-9. Allowed to hunt until sunset.
- Spring Creek Unit – 14,600 acres in Taylor County.
- Tide Swamp Unit – 19,538 acres in Taylor County.
Blackwater WMA – 191,651 acres in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. May not turkey hunt in Field Trial Area. Camping allowed at designated campsites.
Chipola River WMA – 9,094 acres in Jackson and Calhoun counties. Quota permit required to hunt Altha Tract only. Camping allowed only at designated campsites by permit from Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Choctawhatchee River WMA – 57,688 acres in Bay, Holmes, Walton and Washington counties. Southern (non-spring turkey quota area) portion of the area may be hunted without quota permit. Camping allowed. A camping permit issued by Northwest Florida Water Management District is required when camping in designated campgrounds.
Econfina Creek WMA – 41,424 acres in Washington, Bay and Jackson counties. Quota permit not required to hunt after the first nine days, except in the Cat Creek and Fitzhugh Carter areas (where quota permit is needed). Camping allowed only at designated campsites by permit from Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Eglin Air Force Base – 250,000 acres in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Hunting and camping allowed only by permit from Jackson Guard Natural Resources Office by calling 850-882-4164.
Escambia River WMA – 35,413 acres in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Camping allowed. A camping permit issued by Northwest Florida Water Management District is required when camping in designated campgrounds.
Joe Budd WMA – 11,133 acres in Gadsden County. Saturdays and Sundays only. There are 20 no-cost, daily quota permits available at the check station on a first-come, first-served basis. Only bows and muzzleloaders (including muzzleloading rifles) are legal. Allowed to hunt until sunset. Camping allowed at High Bluff Campground by permit from the Florida Forest Service on a first-come, first-served basis by calling 850-488-1871.
Lower Econfina River WMA – 3,004 acres in Taylor County. Season runs March 18-26.
Mallory Swamp WMA – 31,318 acres in Lafayette County. Season runs March 18 – April 2.
Ochlockonee River WMA – 2,790 acres in Leon County. Saturdays and Sundays only.
Osceola WMA – 266,270 acres in Baker and Columbia counties. For camping information on Osceola National Forest, call 386-752-2577; on John M. Bethea State Forest, call 904-259-2157 or click on area link and see “Camping.”
Pine Log WMA – 6,911 acres in Bay and Washington counties. Season runs March 18 – April 9. Camping allowed.
Point Washington WMA – 15,247 acres in Walton County.
Steinhatchee Springs WMA – 24,382 acres in Lafayette, Taylor and Dixie counties. Hunters must have a quota permit to hunt the first nine days, but those without one may hunt March 27 – April 9. The Dixie County portion of the area is inhabited by Osceola turkeys.
Talquin WMA – 3,053 acres in Leon County. Saturdays and Sundays only.
Yellow River WMA – 29,696 acres in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. Season runs March 18-20, March 31 – April 2, April 7-9 and April 21-23 in the Burnt Grocery Creek; and March 18 – April 23 in the remainder of the management area. Camping allowed.
Bag limits and regulations
Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit is two on private lands. On WMAs, you may only take one bird a day. The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where it is one.
On WMAs, the only firearms allowed during spring turkey seasons are shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns, using shot no larger than No. 2. All legal bows and crossbows can be used on most WMAs. But all rifles, pistols, buckshot and slugs are prohibited during spring turkey hunts on WMAs. The exceptions are Joe Budd, Raiford and Santa Fe Swamp. Muzzleloading rifles are allowed on these three areas because spring turkey hunting there is restricted to primitive guns only.
On private property, any legal rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol can be used to take turkeys.
Shooting hours on private lands and some WMAs are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but on most WMAs, you must quit hunting by 1 p.m.
You can use decoys, but you’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot them while they’re on the roost, over bait or when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.
License and permit requirements
Besides a hunting license, you’ll need to buy a turkey permit. For Florida residents, the turkey permit costs $10. For all the out-of-staters who may be seeking an Osceola to complete their “Grand Slam,” the permit costs $125. And if you plan to hunt on a WMA, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.
These licenses and permits can be purchased in Florida at county tax collectors’ offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting/fishing supplies, and with a credit card by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
During Youth Turkey Hunt Weekend, no license or permit is required of the supervising adult, unless the adult plans to help “call-in” a bird or otherwise participate in the hunt. In that case, the adult will need a hunting license and turkey permit, and if on a WMA, they will also need a management area permit.
Here’s wishing all of you a successful spring turkey season! If you’re a beginning hunter, you can find some great information and tips at MyFWC.com/NewHunter. And to find out about all the exciting events and opportunities surrounding “75 years of Wild,” visit MyFWC.com/WMA75.