Florida Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

Florida Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014

FL Logo.inddThe leaves are falling, and Florida nights are getting cool...in the Panhandle, at least, where the change of season is more in line with the rest of the South than it is far down the Florida peninsula.

With the change in the weather, the Florida deer-hunting season lies just around the corner and the Florida deer herd is strong and healthy. Most parts of Florida have plenty of deer, indeed, and no matter where you live in the Sunshine State, opportunities abound for you to head out to deer camp and bring home some venison.

TRENDS

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, deer populations this season across Florida appear in much the same condition as they have for several years.

"Our harvest survey has indicated a stable harvest for the last few years," said Cory Morea, who serves as the state's deer management program coordinator. "We feel pretty comfortable in saying that our deer population in the state has been stable in size. With our rainfall improving, we hope that will have a positive impact on productivity."

DEER MANAGEMENT UNITS

Florida's deer-hunting regulations are parsed across four deer hunting zones defined by the FWC. On state-maintained wildlife management areas, deer hunting regulations often differ from the surrounding areas.

Across some deer management units this year, Florida hunters will see changes in hunting regulations. On deer management unit Zone D, these changes impact both private and public lands.

"We have set up two deer management units within the zone," Morea explained, "and there are new antler regulations and changes to the antlerless deer days."

1410_FL_DS1Map_B

Those changes, he added, go back to the FWC's Strategic Plan for its white-tailed deer herd.

"The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to allow us to manage deer at more local levels," he said. "It's based on stakeholder input. Public input drives changes in deer management at the deer management unit level."

Morea also suggested hunters in the rest of the state should expect to see additional changes in deer-hunting regulations over the next couple years. The eventual goal of the project, he said, is to manage Florida's deer herd at a more local level, based on the preferences of hunters.

For more information about Florida's deer management unit project, go to the FWC's website at www.myfwc.com and mouse over the "Hunting" tab. Select "Deer" on the dropdown menu and click on "DMUs" where you'll find much more information on the project.

NEW ZONE D REGULATIONS

Morea's insights point to major changes this season in the deer-hunting regulations in Zone D, the Panhandle.

One change is the boundary between Zone D and Zone C. Zone D has been modified to include the portion of Wakulla County located south of U.S. Highway 98, east of Spring Creek Road and west of the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers.

In Zone D, Interstate 10 now is the dividing line between the two deer management units. Bucks harvested south of I-10 in DMU-D1 must carry antlers with at least 21410_G112_FL1.indd points on one side, and each point must measure at least 1 inch long.

North of I-10 in DMU-D2, the minimum antler requirement now is 3 points on one side, and each point must measure at least 1 inch long; or one antler must measure 10 inches or more along its main beam.

The new rules in both DMUs also includes an exception for youth hunters. Hunters 15 years old and younger may continue to harvest bucks that have just one antler measuring 5 inches or more.

The regulations surrounding antlerless deer-hunting days — so-called "doe days" — also have changed. In DMU-D1, the antlerless season was reduced to four days, consisting of two weekends — the weekends after Thanksgiving and Christmas. In DMU-D2, antlerless deer season was lengthened to eight days, distributed across four weekends — Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, the first weekend of muzzleloading gun season, the third weekend of the general gun season, and the weekend after Christmas.

And on private lands within Zone D during antlerless deer season, does may be harvested as well as bucks with antlers that measure less than 5 inches long. Hunters may not take spotted fawns at any time.

For more information on deer hunting regulations this season in DMU Zone D (and all Florida deer-hunting zones), visit the Commission's website at www.MyFWC.com/Deer.

FINDING YOUR DEER THIS SEASON 

Private Land

Deer hunting data and other statistics with regards to white-tailed deer in Florida clearly demonstrate the Panhandle holds more deer across its private lands than anywhere else in the Sunshine State.

1410_G111_FL1.indd"That's the area where we have the highest number of complaints about deer damage on farm crops and landscaping, and the most deer/vehicle collisions," Morea said. "This is particularly true north of I-10. Based on those indicators, the most deer can be found in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties."

Heading east, the agricultural areas of Jackson and Gadsden counties hold good deer numbers, too.

"Then there's kind of a swath that goes from Jefferson and Madison counties through Hamilton, Suwannee, Columbia and Union counties," Morea said. "It goes down through Bradford, Alachua, Marion and Clay counties. There's kind of a path through there where we have a lot of depredation permits, which is an indicator of density. The other county that stands out is Polk County."

Public Land

Many deer hunts on Florida's WMAs take place where the  FWC restricts hunts through the Special Opportunity system or the Quota Hunt system. Since this article won't come out until it's too late to apply for either one of those hunt types, we eliminated from our list those WMAs that are managed entirely under either system.

But it is the WMAs where many deer hunters get their only chance to hunt Florida whitetails. The WMAs in our "best" list for hunting all have at least a portion of some season — general gun, muzzleloading or archery — that is open for either walk-in hunting or hunting with a daily hunt permit, available at the check station. And the rankings are based on hunter effort  — from least to greatest per deer killed.

 1. Joe Budd WMA

Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area in Gadsden County is always a good place for deer hunting. It doesn't have a general gun season, but deer hunters at Joe Budd WMA enjoy archery and muzzleloading gun hunts through the period of time when the rest of the state is open for general gun hunting. Hunting here does require quota permits, but half of the permits are "walk-up" permits.

Joe Budd WMA has a variety of habitats and varied topography, which is rare for Florida. Since this area now requires hunters to observe legal bucks with three points on a side, it's starting to build up a larger population of mature deer. Joe Budd is slightly larger than 11,000 acres in size.

2. Apalachee WMA

Apalachee Wildlife Management Area is a deer-hunting site that's been around quite a while. It's located in Jackson County, alongside Lake Seminole and the Chattahoochee River. Part of the area supports planted fields, which means good hunting. The entire area is only 7,900 acres, so it won't support a lot of pressure, but it could be a good place for archery hunting.

The first portion of the general gun season at Apalachee WMA is under quota. Permits are required for the remainder of the general gun season and for archery and muzzleloading gun seasons in the form of first-come-first-served zone tags, which are available at the check station on the day of the hunt.

3. Spring Creek WMA

Spring Creek is located in Taylor County. The area covers 14,000 acres.

A quota permit is required during muzzleloading gun season and the first nine days of the general gun season. Archery season, and the rest of the general gun season, are open with no permit required. During general gun season, some parts of the area require permits, while other parts are open for specific periods. Be sure to read the area information brochure carefully to guarantee you're in compliance with current hunting regulations.

4. Arbuckle WMA

Arbuckle Wildlife Management Area in Polk County is a good place to deer hunt despite the fact the habitat doesn't seem very conducive to a good deer population. It features scrubby upland habitat with a lot of sandhills. Antler restrictions apply.

Hunters must carry a permit to hunt Arbuckle WMA. They're available first-come-first-served at the check station on weekdays only (weekend hunts fall under the quota system). The area is slightly larger than 13,500 acres.

5. Hickory Mound WMA

The Hickory Mound Wildlife Management Area stretches across  more than 14,000 acres of Taylor County, much of it in coastal swamp habitat. The first 16 days of the gun season on Hickory Mound are under quota. After that, the area is open for hunters to enter at will. Archery season also is open with no quota.

6. Econfina Creek WMA

Econfina Creek Wildlife Management Area is a 41,000-acre area located in Washington, Bay and Jackson counties. Hunting regs here provide for both dog deer hunts and still-hunting zones. And a portion of the WMA is set aside for mobility impaired hunters.

The permit requirements that apply to this area are somewhat complex. During archery and muzzleloading gun seasons, some parts of the WMA are open for hunting and other parts are under quota permits. Check out the regulations before you hunt to ensure you're hunting within the permit requirements.

7. Tide Swamp WMA

Tide Swamp Wildlife Management Area is similar to both Hickory Mound and Spring Creek WMAs. It's low-lying habitat covers a little less than 20,000 acres, primarily made up of hammocks, with upland flatwoods and sandhills in the inland portions of the area. No quota permits are required.

One minor change is in place this year on Tide Swamp for deer hunters. Hunters no longer are required to enter and exit the area through a designated check station.

8. Three Lakes WMA 

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area is a large hunting area in Osceola County. Stretching across more than 63,000 acres, it holds a moderate population of deer. Portions of each season are under quota permits. On other days hunters must stop at the check station and pick up a daily permit.

While deer hunting at Three Lakes, use care not to stray onto the Prairie Lakes Unit of the WMA. The Prairie Lakes Unit is under quota permit for everything but small-game hunting. You'll be hunting illegally if you cross over onto that piece of property during the non-permit period of the local hunting season.

9. Camp Blanding WMA

Camp Blanding Wildlife Management Area is located in Clay County and is part of the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. The WMA consists of a dog deer-hunting area, an archery-only area and two still-hunting areas. Camp Blanding is not open to scouting, so make sure that you review aerial maps and topographic maps to identify the areas where creeks are found. Camp Blanding is crisscrossed by multiple creeks, and these are key to finding deer on the area.

10. Big Cypress WMA

Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area is among the largest of Florida's public-hunting areas. Yet, while it covers more than 711,000 acres in Collier, Dade and Monroe counties, deer hunting on the WMA is restricted to bucks only. Because its habitat is less productive than other areas, hunting regulations protect the does. The FWC doesn't allow doe harvest even during archery season on the area.

Big Cypress WMA has wetlands, pine rocklands, pine flatlands and cypress swamp, with a good bit of prairie and a lot of diversity.  It's a good mosaic of south Florida's typical native habitats. The area around Bear Island stands at a bit higher elevation than the rest of the area. And be forewarned that access into much of Big Cypress can be difficult because the area can be so wet.

Summary

The face of deer hunting in Florida is, indeed, changing as it looks like regulations will be tweaked over a long period of time to help deer hunters who are speaking out to the hearing ears of the FWC. Learn the new rules; hunt with patience, skill and good ethics; and put firearm safety above all else when you hunt Florida whitetails this season.

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