February “Outta’ the Woods” by Tony Young
“Waterfowl hunting takes you to places you would probably not otherwise find yourself. There’s nothing quite like the marsh coming alive with teeming wildlife at first light,” said John Hitchcock, president of Florida Wetlands Forever. “And it’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time afield with a young person and help pass on the hunting tradition to the next generation.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has established Feb. 3-4 as this year’s statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This weekend is specifically set up for children 15 and younger to hunt waterfowl, coots and common moorhens while being supervised by an adult (18 years or older).
“Hunting waterfowl can teach a youth a unique awareness and appreciation for the outdoors and expand their understanding of wetland habitat, the importance of conservation and an awareness of where our food comes from,” Hitchcock said.
Only the kids may hunt; adults may only assist. Because only children 15 and younger may hunt during these two days, no licenses or permits are needed, including federal duck stamps. And if you’re not a duck hunter but your child is showing an interest in trying it, the FWC has online information to assist you – just visit MyFWC.com/NewHunter.
When introducing a youth to waterfowl hunting, Hitchcock offers these tips.
“Take them to a gun range before the hunt to teach them gun safety and let them become familiar with the gun they will be shooting,” Hitchcock said. “Keep the hunt simple and teach hunting regulations as you go. Also, keep a close eye on what the youth hunter is doing with their gun, and make sure they understand their shooting zone and the importance of keeping their gun barrel pointed in that safe direction.”
Youth waterfowl regulations
Youth are allowed to hunt ducks, light geese, Canada geese, mergansers, coots and common moorhens during the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. Bag limits and other regulations are available at MyFWC.com/Hunting by clicking on “Duck/Waterfowl” then “2017-2018 Migratory Bird Season Dates and Bag Limits.”
FWC-managed youth waterfowl hunts
The FWC has managed hunts at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area, STA 1W and Guana River Wildlife Management Area. These fun, family-oriented events include raffles, free food and great waterfowl hunting. No children are turned away from the hunts, so a quota permit is not necessary. For more information on the Guana River hunt, call 904-825-6877. For more information on the T.M. Goodwin and STA 1W hunts, call 321-726-2862.
Zone D’s late muzzleloader season
Zone D has a late muzzleloading gun season that extends deer hunting by a week after general gun ends, and runs Feb. 19-25 on private lands. The season was established to give hunters an opportunity to continue hunting the rut, which runs from mid-January through February in northwest Florida.
A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season. On private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. A hunting license is also needed, which costs residents $17 annually – or folks can opt to purchase a five-year license for only $79.
On wildlife management areas, this post-season is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Specific dates vary by WMA, so consult each area’s brochure. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Persons with Disabilities Crossbow Permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 archery permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the $5 muzzleloading gun permit.
Legal to take; bag limits
Deer and wild hogs are most commonly hunted during this season. Only legal bucks may be taken (even if using a bow). South of Interstate 10 in Deer Management Unit D1, one antler must have at least two points. North of I-10 in DMU D2, all bucks must have at least three points on one side or have a main beam of at least 10 inches long to be legal to take.
If hunting deer, make sure you have the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Season dates, bag limits and antler regulations for deer on WMAs may differ, so consult the area brochure before you hunt.
On private lands, wild hogs may be taken year-round with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limit, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so again, check the area’s brochure to make sure.
During the late muzzleloader season on private lands and archery/muzzleloading gun season on WMAs, dogs may not be used to hunt deer. However, you may use a leashed dog for tracking purposes. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.
Bows and crossbows must have minimum draw weights of 35 pounds. Hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
During this late season, the only muzzleloaders allowed are those fired by wheel lock, flintlock, percussion cap or centerfire primer (including 209 primers) that cannot be loaded from the breech. For hunting deer, muzzleloading rifles must be at least .40-caliber, and muzzleloading shotguns must be 20-gauge or larger.
Legal shooting hours are between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it is illegal to use such feed on WMAs.
Public hunting opportunity
In Zone D, 12 of the WMAs have a February archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of them, you must have the $26 management area permit. Those areas are Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Perdido River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River.
You can get the licenses and permits you’ll need at most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, Florida tax collector offices, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
The 2017-2018 fall/winter hunting seasons may be winding down, however, there are still great opportunities to get out there. This February, introduce a young person to duck hunting during the statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days or take time to enjoy the solitude of the late Zone D muzzleloader season.