New youth deer hunt weekend and muzzleloader season

October “Outta’ the Woods” by Tony Young 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission established a new youth deer hunting weekend, which occurs during muzzleloading gun season in each of the four hunting zones. FWC staff initiated the proposal to promote youth hunting and stakeholders were overwhelmingly supportive of this new opportunity.

“Wildlife management areas have had youth and family deer hunts for years, so this newly established season is a way to encourage youth deer hunting on private lands,” said Cory Morea, FWC biologist and deer management program coordinator. “This new opportunity, which occurs early in the season when hunting pressure is lower, supports the FWC’s commitment to igniting interest in hunting and creating the next generation of conservation stewards.”

Youth 15 years old and younger who are supervised by an adult may participate in this new Saturday-Sunday youth hunt, which ran Sept. 14-15 in Zone A, and runs Oct. 26-27 in Zone C, Nov. 30 – Dec. 1 in Zone B, and Dec. 7-8 in Zone D.

Youth are allowed to harvest one antlered or antlerless deer during the weekend and it counts toward youth hunters’ statewide annual bag limit. Youth are allowed to use any legal method of take for deer. This includes the use of dogs to pursue deer on deer-dog registered properties.

Since this youth deer hunt coincides with muzzleloading gun seasons, supervising adults and other non-youth may hunt but must use either a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow, and may only take antlered deer that meet the antler point regulations for the DMU hunted. If deer dogs are used, however, only youth may shoot at deer.

No license or permit is required of accompanying adults who only supervise. If adult supervisors or any non-youth participate in the hunt (even if only rattling antlers or blowing a grunt call), they are required to have a hunting license, deer permit and muzzleloading gun permit, unless exempt.

“Hunting with my kids has provided many fond memories – some of the best times of my life. From our early morning breakfast conversations, spending time at camp, our whispered conversations when hunting, to teaching them about safe and responsible hunting, reading the woods and wildlife conservation,” Morea said.

Muzzleloading gun season

Annually, the beginning of muzzleloading gun season immediately follows the close of crossbow season in each zone. Season dates run Oct. 19 – Nov. 1 in Zone C, Nov. 23 – Dec. 6 in Zone B, and Dec. 7-13 in Zone D.

During muzzleloader season, bows and crossbows are legal methods of taking game on private lands. On WMAs though, only muzzleloaders may be used, and not every muzzleloader is legal to use during muzzleloading gun season.

Only muzzleloaders fired by wheel lock, flintlock, percussion cap or centerfire primer (including 209 primers) are legal during muzzleloading gun season. Firearms that can be loaded from the breech are not legal during muzzleloading gun season.

Deer and wild hogs are the most common species to take during muzzleloading gun season. New this year, the minimum caliber for muzzleloaders firing single bullets when hunting deer has been reduced to .30-caliber. Guns firing two or more balls still need to be 20-gauge or larger. Only legal bucks, according to the deer management unit in which you’re hunting, may be taken, and the daily bag limit for deer is two.

On private land with landowner permission, you may hunt wild hogs year-round with no bag or size limits. On WMAs, bag limits for hogs and deer may differ, so check the area’s regulations brochure before you hunt there.

In addition to big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys on private property and on a handful of WMAs during muzzleloading gun season. You may take up to two per day on private lands (one per day on WMAs), but there’s still the two-bird combined fall-season limit. You may not shoot turkeys while they’re on the roost, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present, or with the aid of recorded electronic turkey calls. It’s also against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County during the fall.

WMAs that don’t require a quota permit

Florida’s WMAs offer a wide range of hunting opportunities including quota/limited entry hunts, special-opportunity hunts and public hunting areas where hunters can walk on to hunt. There are nearly 40 WMAs where hunters don’t need a quota permit to hunt some or all of the muzzleloading gun season. You can find those WMAs not requiring a quota permit at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures by clicking on “No Quota Permit Hunting.”

Gray squirrel season

Small game hunting provides opportunities for youth and adults to experience hunting. It has broad appeal, usually requires little planning and allows hunters to take spur-of-the-moment hunting excursions.

In Florida, gray squirrel season runs statewide Oct. 12 – March 1. Good squirrel hunting areas can be found throughout most of Florida, and many are convenient to major urban areas. Squirrel hunters can find success on small tracts of private and public lands. There are numerous opportunities to hunt gray squirrels on WMAs during small game season, when a quota permit is never required. But season dates on WMAs vary greatly, so check the individual WMA brochure to know when the season is in.

The use of dogs is allowed for treeing and retrieving squirrels. The daily bag limit for gray squirrels is 12, but be mindful of proper species identification because shooting the larger fox squirrel is against the law.

Dove season

The first phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season started on Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 20, statewide. Shooting hours during all three phases on private lands is a half-hour before sunrise to sunset, and the daily bag limit is 15 birds.

Good dove hunting opportunities can be found near agricultural lands where birds feed on crops and seed. You may hunt doves over an agricultural field, so long as the crop has been planted as part of regular agricultural practices. However, it’s against the law to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting. For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Dove and click “Dove Hunting and Baiting in Florida.”

The only firearm with which you’re allowed to hunt doves is a shotgun, though hunters may not use one larger than a 10 gauge. When hunting migratory birds, shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined). Retrievers or bird dogs are allowed, and they can be an asset when trying to locate hard-to-find birds.

If you happen to shoot a dove with a metal band around its leg, report it at ReportBand.gov. This band-recovery data is important for understanding migration patterns and managing doves. By reporting this information, you’ll be able to find out when and where your bird was banded.

License and permit requirements

Whether you participate in one or more of these hunting opportunities, you’ll need a Florida hunting license. If you’re a resident, this will cost $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for an annual license.

If you plan to hunt during muzzleloading gun season, you’ll need a $5 muzzleloading gun season permit, even if you use a bow or crossbow on private lands. If you hunt on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. To hunt deer, you need a $5 deer permit, and if you’d like to take a fall turkey, you’ll need a $10 ($125 for nonresidents) turkey permit. Also, a no-cost migratory bird permit is required if you plan on hunting doves or any other migratory game birds.

Season dates, bag limits and restrictions differ greatly on each WMA, so before heading afield this season, we suggest you print the WMA regulations brochures and maps for the specific WMAs you plan to hunt. Or you can download them to a mobile device, so that they can be accessed without an internet connection. WMA regulations brochures are available only at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures and through the Fish|Hunt FL app.

All of the hunting licenses and permits you’ll need are available at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going to your local county tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies.

Be safe and have fun!

Remember, there’s a new annual bag limit of five deer, of which two may be antlerless – and the new deer harvest reporting requirement. Learn more about these new rules at MyFWC.com/Deer. As always, have fun, hunt safely and responsibly, and we’ll see you in the woods!