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By Tony Young
Easy guide to the Fall Florida hunting seasons
Image by Carhartt
With one of the longest deer seasons in the nation and nearly 6 million acres of public hunting lands, Florida offers hunters many opportunities to get out and enjoy November’s cooler weather.
General Gun Season
The general gun season runs Nov. 5 – Jan. 22 in Zone C, and Dec. 3 – Feb. 19 in Zone B. In Zone A, the second phase of general gun season is Nov. 19 – Jan. 1. In Zone D, it always starts Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24) and lasts four days (until Nov. 27). Two weeks later, the gun season reopens Dec. 10 and runs through Feb. 19.
During general gun season, only legal-to-take bucks as they are defined in each deer management unit may be harvested, but don’t forget that you need to purchase the $5 deer permit first. On private land, the daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits and other regulations for deer on wildlife management areas can differ, so before you hunt download the specific WMA brochure by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting.
You can 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 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 the game.
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.
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, please refer to the “2016-2017 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. You may not take two antlerless deer in one day as is allowed during the archery season, 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 WMAs, most do not have antlerless deer days.
Folks hunting deer with dogs on private or public lands, where it is allowed, must have their names and addresses displayed on their dogs’ collars. Hunters must confine their dogs to the tract of land on which they have permission to hunt and not allow them to wander off that land.
Hunters using dogs to take deer on private property must register the tract of land they will be hunting. The statewide deer-dog registration program doesn’t apply for training or hunting with deer dogs on WMAs.
The registration number may be issued to hunting clubs, landowners or anyone having permission to hunt deer with dogs on a particular tract of land upon filling out the required application. Application forms are available from all regional FWC offices and at MyFWC.com/Deer.
Once you’ve registered the property, you’ll be issued a number that must be attached to the collars of all dogs used to run deer on that property, when taking deer with dogs is permitted. All individuals must have a copy of the registration with them while they’re engaged in training or hunting with deer dogs.
Fall Turkey and Quail
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. 3 – Jan. 29 in Zone B; Nov. 5 – Jan. 1 in Zone C; and Nov. 24-27 and Dec. 10 – Jan. 15 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. 19 – Jan. 1. Hunters may take only 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, 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, you are allowed to take turkeys during general gun season.
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.
The excitement the uproar a covey of bobwhite quail cause when suddenly taking to the air in front of a pointing bird dog is enough to thrill even the most seasoned veteran hunter. Quail season this year runs Nov. 12 – March 5, and the daily bag limit is 12. Bobwhites prefer a patchwork of brushy fence rows, weedy fields and open upland forests that are frequently burned. A good bird dog is essential in quail hunting and, for many hunters, watching the dog work and seeing its enjoyment is the most rewarding part.
Shooting hours for deer, turkeys and quail are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. All legal rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, bows, crossbows and handguns may be used to take each of these resident game animals during the general gun, fall turkey and quail seasons.
llegal 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.
Snipe and Dove
Florida ranks second in the nation in the number of snipe harvested each year, and the season always runs Nov. 1 – Feb. 15. Snipe hunting can offer unparalleled excitement as snipe fly with a fast, erratic flight pattern, presenting a challenge for hunters. The skill it requires to shoot a moving snipe is probably the main reason many hunters trounce through mud and muck to locate and flush snipe. The common snipe is a migratory game bird that is found in Florida only during the winter months, mostly in shallow wetlands, low pastures and open shorelines of lakes, ponds and streams. Hunting strategy is simple – find their habitat and walk until you flush one. And a close-working bird dog or retriever can be helpful in finding, flushing and retrieving snipe.
The second phase of the mourning and white-winged dove season this year runs Nov. 12 – Dec. 5. Shooting hours for both dove and snipe is a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
There’s an eight-bird daily bag limit on snipe and a 15-bird bag limit on dove, and you must have the no-cost migratory bird permit if you want to hunt either of these migratory game birds.
The only firearm you’re allowed to hunt snipe and doves with is a shotgun, although you can’t use one larger than a 10-gauge. Shotguns also must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).
You may hunt either of these birds over an agricultural field, as long as the crop has been planted and manipulated by normal agricultural methods. However, you’re not allowed to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting.
If you’re up for the challenge, you may even use a bow or crossbow. Birds of prey also can be used to take snipe and doves by properly permitted individuals practicing falconry.
Some things you can’t do while hunting snipe and doves include using rifles or pistols, shooting from a moving vehicle, and herding or driving birds with a vehicle.
The FWC provides an online update that gives the latest information on Florida’s public dove fields. The address is MyFWC.com/Dove, and it’s updated throughout dove season. Information includes dove densities, previous week’s harvests and field conditions.
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 on the WMA you’re going to hunt because dates, bag limits and rules differ greatly for each area.
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 or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
Whether you prefer small-game hunting with friends and family or hunting solo and going after that monster buck, boar hog or big tom, November brings loads of great hunting opportunities.
Here’s wishing you a happy Thanksgiving and a successful hunting season. Remember: Take a kid hunting or introduce someone new to the hunting tradition we love. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!