Hopefully, you’ve already started brushing up on your turkey calling, ’cause spring gobbler season is here. Whether you prefer to use a mouth call, box call, slate or any combination, March means it’s time to talk turkey and I, for one, am in full turkey mode! Youth hunters can benefit from the two-day, youth spring turkey hunting season the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season. This Youth Spring Turkey Hunt occurs on private lands and on 78 of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) wildlife management areas (WMAs).
South of State Road 70 this year, that weekend was Feb. 22-23. In the rest of the state, that weekend falls on March 8-9.
Only those under 16 years old are allowed to harvest a turkey while supervised by an adult, 18 years or older. On private land, no license or permit is required of the youth or supervising adult, unless the adult plans to help “call-in” the bird or otherwise participate in the hunt. In that case, he or she will need a hunting license and turkey permit.
Forty-nine of the 78 participating WMAs require a youth spring turkey quota permit, and if the adult supervisor is going to attempt to call in a bird on any of the 78 WMAs, he or she also will need a management area permit in addition to a hunting license and turkey permit.
But, keep in mind that adults are not allowed to do the shooting; only the kids may harvest a bird.
During spring turkey season on WMAs, firearms are restricted to shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns only, using shot no larger than No. 2. All legal bows and crossbows (on most areas) can also be used, but all rifles, pistols, buckshot and slugs are prohibited during spring turkey hunts on WMAs.
This rule does not apply, however, to private property, where any legal rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol can be used to take turkeys.
One of the most coveted and sought-after game species in Florida is the Osceola turkey, also known as the Florida turkey. This unique bird is one of five subspecies of wild turkey in North America.
The Osceola lives only on the Florida peninsula and nowhere else in the world, making it extremely popular with out-of-state hunters. They’re similar to the eastern subspecies (found in the Panhandle) but tend to be a bit smaller and typically are darker with less white barring on the primary flight feathers of their wings.
The National Wild Turkey Federation and the FWC recognize any wild turkey harvested within or south of the counties of Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Union, Bradford, Clay and Duval to be the Osceola subspecies. Eastern turkeys and hybrids are found north and west of these counties and into the Panhandle.
For us adults, the highly anticipated spring turkey season comes in first south of S.R. 70 and runs March 1 – April 6. In the rest of the state (except for Holmes County), it runs March 15 – April 20. In Holmes County, the season runs March 15-30.
Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit is one. The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where the season limit is one.
Shooting hours on private lands are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but on WMAs, you must quit hunting at 1 p.m.
To participate in spring turkey hunting, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and a turkey permit. If you plan to pursue a gobbler on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you also must purchase a management area permit.
All of these licenses and permits are available at county tax collectors’ offices, most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356), or online at License.MyFWC.com.
And if you didn’t put in for a special-opportunity or quota permit, don’t worry; several WMAs don’t require them. Visit MyFWC.com/Hunting and click on “Where to spring turkey hunt without a quota permit” to see a list of WMAs where you need only a hunting license, management area permit and turkey permit to hunt spring turkeys.
Tony Young and his wife, Katie, have a turkey hunting trip planned in South Florida with old friends, and they are really looking forward to going after an Osceola for their first time.