With much of the Panhandle still coping with the devastation from Hurricane Michael – a recovery that may take months – we continue to be proud of the spirit, perseverance and fortitude of those who were affected. Our responding officers have seen firsthand people lending a hand to neighbors, friends and strangers; contributing essential items to those who lost everything; being more patient; and expressing gratitude. The kindness and compassion has been uplifting.
As Thanksgiving nears, celebrating that powerful sense of community will be top of mind for many. For the hunting community, it’s a wonderful time of year to remember those who introduced us to hunting. And the holiday gives us a great opportunity to pay it forward by taking someone else hunting such as a neighbor, friend, family member or coworker.
There are many people who didn’t grow up hunting but became interested in experiencing it and enjoying the benefits of eating healthy, organic protein as adults. Denise Helms, the Florida state chapter president of the National Wild Turkey Federation, is a perfect example. She didn’t go on her first hunt until she was 24 years old when a friend invited her to go turkey hunting on public land.
“I’m game for anything, so I went along. I just like being outdoors,” Helms said.
Helms loved the experience of sitting in a homemade palmetto blind, taking in the sunrise through an oak hammock and hearing wild turkeys gobble for the first time.
“Country singer Eric Church said it best with his lyric, ‘Walking barefoot through the mud will knock the rust right off your soul,’” Helms said. “And so does being in the woods.”
However, Helms didn’t immediately catch the hunting bug. She married and moved to Colorado, and it wasn’t until she moved back to the Sunshine State 12 years later that she had the opportunity to go hunting again. In 2008, she harvested her first turkey, deer and wild hog.
By engaging herself in hunting, Helms has gained a whole new family.
“Acquaintances turned into friends who turned into family – people who care about conservation, support me incorporating hunting into my life and help me succeed,” Helms said. “It’s a great feeling having mentors like that who I can learn from.”
Helms admits she’s not a hunting master yet, so she hasn’t personally guided anyone on a hunt. But she’s been doing her part in passing down the hunting tradition by volunteering with her local NWTF chapter and serving on its board since 2011. Helping plan and host a Women in the Outdoors event for other women further ignited her passion for hunting.
“I feel like what I’m doing is making a difference at all levels – and I like that,” Helms said.
General gun season
General gun season runs Nov. 3 – Jan. 20 in Zone C, and Dec. 1 – Feb. 17 in Zone B. In Zone A, the second phase of general gun season is Nov. 17 – Jan. 6. In Zone D, the first phase always starts Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22) and lasts four days (until Nov. 25).
During general gun season, only legal-to-take bucks as they are defined in each Deer Management Unit may be harvested. Don’t forget you need to purchase a $5 deer permit first. On private land, the daily bag limit for deer is two. Bag limits and other regulations for deer on WMAs can differ, so before you hunt download the specific WMA brochure ONLY available at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures and through the Fish|Hunt FL app. These brochures are no longer being printed.
You may hunt wild hogs on private lands year-round with no bag or size limits. Similarly, on most public lands there are no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On a few public hunting areas, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the online WMA brochure to be certain.
Hunters are allowed to take deer and wild hogs over feeding stations on private land, but that’s not the case on WMAs, no matter the season or game species.
New this year, hunters are allowed to use pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air guns firing single bullets or arrows to take deer during general gun season on private lands and on WMAs, if the gun is at least .30 caliber.
It’s illegal to take deer using rimfire cartridges or non-expanding, full-metal case ammunition. Shooting a swimming deer also is against the law.
All free-running dogs used in pursuing or hunting deer must wear a collar or tag displaying the name and address of the dog’s owner. Hunters must contain their dogs to the tract of land they have permission to hunt.
There are several ways to accomplish that: Equip and monitor dogs with devices that allow remote tracking and behavior correction; only deer-dog hunt on large tracts of land; make sure there are adequate cut-off roads that will enable you to keep in front of the dogs; and don’t turn out more dogs than your hunting party can manage.
Hunters using dogs to take deer on private lands must register that property before doing so. No-cost, statewide deer-dog registration is required during all open deer-hunting and training seasons when taking or running deer with dogs is permitted. However, this registration doesn’t apply to hunters hunting or training with deer dogs on public lands and WMAs.
This mandatory registration may be issued to hunting clubs, landowners or anyone who has permission to hunt deer with dogs on a particular tract of land as long as the required application is completed and approved. Application forms are available at all regional Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offices and online at MyFWC.com/Deer. Applications should include proof of landowner permission or a copy of the written hunting-lease agreement, and a general map of the property showing boundaries and a legal description.
Once you’ve registered with the FWC, you’ll be issued a unique registration number that must be attached to the collars of all dogs used to pursue deer on registered properties during any open deer-hunting or deer-dog training season when taking or running deer with dogs is permitted. Hunters must possess copies of their registration while they’re hunting or training with their dogs.
WMAs that don’t require a quota permit
Florida’s WMAs offer a wide range of hunting opportunities from quota/limited entry hunts, special-opportunity hunts, and public hunting areas where hunters can walk on to hunt. There are 46 WMAs where hunters don’t need a quota permit to hunt some or all of the general gun season. So, if you didn’t apply or get drawn for a quota hunt, don’t worry, there’s plenty of opportunity spread throughout the state. You can find those WMAs not requiring a quota permit at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures at the bottom of the webpage.
Private land doe days
Within the general gun season are antlerless deer days, better known to us hunters as “doe days.” These dates differ for each of the state’s 12 DMUs. To learn when these antlerless deer opportunities occur in your DMU, refer to the “2018-2019 Florida Hunting Regulations” handbook, which you can pick up at your tax collector’s office, FWC regional office or by downloading it online at MyFWC.com/Hunting.
During these doe days, the daily bag limit is one legal antlered deer and one antlerless deer, or two legal antlered deer. Unlike archery season, you may not take two antlerless deer in one day, unless you have antlerless deer tags issued for the private land you hunt. Also, regardless of the season, deer gender or the number of permits, hunters are never allowed to harvest more than two deer per day under any circumstances. And except for a few, most WMAs do not have antlerless deer days.
Fall turkey season starts on the same date as general gun season in zones B, C and D but ends a little earlier. It runs from Dec. 1 – Jan. 27 in Zone B; Nov. 3 – Dec. 30 in Zone C; and Nov. 22-25 and Dec. 8 – Jan. 13 in Zone D. In Zone A, the second phase of fall turkey season is the same as the zone’s second phase of general gun: Nov. 17 – Jan. 6. Hunters may only take bearded turkeys and gobblers, and they must have a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents) to hunt them.
You may harvest up to two turkeys per day on private land, if you’d like, but that would tag you out for the entire fall season because you’re only allowed to harvest a total of two turkeys during the archery, crossbow, muzzleloading gun and fall turkey seasons combined. In Holmes County, the harvest of fall turkeys is not allowed at all. And there’s not a fall turkey season on WMAs, however, on a half-dozen areas, turkeys are legal to take during general gun season.
As with deer, PCP air guns are now a legal method of taking turkeys during fall turkey season, but they must be a minimum of .20 caliber or be the type that shoots arrows.
You’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs or with recorded turkey calls, and you’re not permitted to shoot them while they’re on the roost or when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.
Quail season this year runs Nov. 10 – March 3, and the daily bag limit is 12.
Shooting hours for deer, fall turkeys and quail are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. All legal rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, air guns (PCP .30 caliber for deer, .20 caliber for turkeys), bows, crossbows and handguns may be used to take each of these resident game animals during the general gun, fall turkey and quail seasons.
Illegal firearms and ammunition are defined as centerfire, semiautomatic rifles having magazine capacities of more than five rounds, and fully automatic firearms. Other prohibited methods for taking game include shooting from a moving vehicle and herding or driving game with a vehicle.
License and permit requirements
The first thing you’ll need to participate in one or more of these hunting opportunities is a Florida hunting license. Residents pay just $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months.
If you want to hunt on a WMA, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. And don’t forget to obtain the brochure about the WMA you’re going to hunt because dates, bag limits and rules differ greatly for each area. These are available only online at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures and through the Fish|Hunt FL app.
All necessary licenses and permits are available at your tax collector’s office, retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing gear, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
November is a time to be thankful, especially now, knowing that so many Floridians will be recovering from Hurricane Michael for many months ahead. For those who can give their time or resources to help, please do so however you can. Resources are available through the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and the Volunteer Florida organizations.