Sunshine State Waterfowl Areas

Throughout the Florida peninsula, there are a number of tracts of public land set aside for waterfowling hunting. Why not consider these places for your next duck hunt?

By Sally Aptel

Florida is covered with vast areas of excellent waterfowl habitat, and during winter migration huge numbers of ducks flock to the state. What this means to hunters is that there are ample opportunities to hunt waterfowl all over the Sunshine State, and an excellent chance for bagging a duck or two for their efforts.

Generally speaking, waterfowl hunting is permitted on any body of water that has public access - unless it's closed for some specific reason such as being in a park or in an area where shooting guns is prohibited. It's always best to check with local law enforcement agencies before setting out to hunt an area you are unsure about.

Many state and federal lands that are managed for wildlife offer duck hunting opportunities but have specific regulations that may differ from unmanaged public or privately owned lands. Again, before deciding to hunt a place that looks good, be sure you understand the rules and regulations that pertain to the area.

The following public areas offer hunters a variety of duck hunting opportunities around the state. It is important to note that conditions on any of the areas listed can vary from day to day depending upon weather and other factors, so it is important to call for the latest updates before heading out for a day of shooting.

T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area (WMA) is a 3,870-acre wetland restoration project in the upper St. Johns River basin in Brevard County in south-central Florida. It is also known as the C-54 Retention Area and is part of the Upper St. Johns River Federal Flood Control Project. As a result, the area may be flooded periodically during adverse water conditions.

This is primarily a walk-in area since you must park in a designated area and walk or take a provided shuttle to your assigned hunting areas. Hunters occasionally use canoes or mud boats, but most of the impoundments are too heavily vegetated for navigation, said Jace Albury, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) waterfowl biologist on the area.

T.M. Goodwin is managed intensively by the FWCC to provide high-quality wetland habitat for wintering, migrating and resident ducks, and other wetland wildlife, while providing recreational opportunities to the public. The area consists of 1,500 acres of intensively managed impoundments, with the remainder maintained as open marsh habitat.

"We manage the area mainly by manipulating water levels, but we also use prescribed-burning, disking, roller chopping, and herbicide treatments when necessary to control non-native invasive plants," said Albury.

During the 2001-2002 regular hunting season, Goodwin yielded 987 ducks to hunters, including blue- and green-winged teal, mottled ducks, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, scaup and pintails. The average daily harvest was about 1.7 ducks per hunter, Albury noted.

This area has special regulations and is open to hunting only on certain days. There is generally a quota of 65 hunters per day; some of the slots are by reservation. Hunters should refer to the area brochure for details or call the T.M. Goodwin WMA office for dates and times, as well as information on how to reserve a spot. The brochure is available online at the FWCC Web site, located at You can request one by phone from the T.M. Goodwin WMA office at (407) 726-2862.

New for Florida waterfowlers this year is Broadmoor Marsh WMA, located adjacent to and just north of T.M. Goodwin. Hunters will be able to hunt about 2,400 acres, and the hunts will be scheduled similarly to the way they are on Goodwin, Albury said.

Also like Goodwin, water levels on the area are manipulated for moist soil management, which attracts the ducks.

"For the past 10 or so years this area was diked, drained and used for agricultural purposes," said Albury. "We are now managing it as a waterfowl area with seven impoundments and a reservoir for storing water."

He added that Broadmoor is a wading or boat area and has better boat access than Goodwin because hunters are able to drive to about the center of the area.

For hunt dates and details, call the T.M. Goodwin office or check the FWCC Web site for a hunt brochure.

Hunters headed to South Florida might want to check out Lake Harbor PWA, located south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades agricultural area of Palm Beach County. This 640-acre farm (320 acres are hunted) is a research area to help scientists determine the best ways to return former agricultural lands to wetlands. It is managed for rice and crawfish production through a private contractor.

The original management concept for the area was to flood it and grow two crops of rice. The first crop is harvested by the contracted farmer; the second crop is then left to attract ducks. Rice culture is encouraged because it provides better wildlife habitat and soil conservation as compared to sugar cane farming, which is the primary crop in the area and dominates land use there, explained FWCC waterfowl biologist Ron Bielefeld.

After the first rice crop is harvested in early fall, the fields are re-flooded to provide habitat for ducks, as well as numerous other species of wetland wildlife. Some years, instead of planting rice for the second crop, the area is planted with millet and then flooded - a technique that also brings on the waterfowl.

Since hunting in this area is over flooded crop fields, the water is very shallow and no boats are permitted.

Teal and mottled ducks are generally abundant on this area, and during the 2001-2002 regular season hunters checked 141 ducks, including blue- and green-winged teal, mottled ducks, ring-necked ducks and scaup. The average daily harvest was .6 duck per hunter.

Public hunting at Lake Harbor is administered by the FWCC through its South Region office, located in West Palm Beach. This area also has special regulations and is open to hunting only on certain days. All of this is spelled out in the area's hunt brochure, which is available from the regional office at (561) 625-5133 or online at the FWCC Web site listed earlier.

Hunters in northeast Florida have possibly the best place to hunt in the state at their disposal. PCS Phosphate WMA is located on active phosphate mining land in Hamilton County. The mine

d phosphate pits provide attractive duck habitat for a variety of species.

"Year in and year out, the harvest at PCS Phosphate is better than that at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is considered a premier duck hunting area in Florida," said Dewey Weaver, public information coordinator for the FWCC.

The predominant species are shovelers and blue- or green-winged teal. However, mallards and pintails are frequently taken as well, said Weaver.

Hunting on this area is by boat with electric motors only. No wading is allowed due to the unstable, silty nature of the pond bottoms. The area boasts four ponds, which are separated by dikes. They are active phosphate settling ponds. That means they are filled when water from the phosphate mining process is dumped into them to let the silt settle before the water is reclaimed and used again in the mining process.

According to Weaver, the ponds produce lots of invertebrates and plankton that the ducks feed on. In addition, the water provides the perfect conditions for a plant called primrose willow, which produces a seed favored by ducks.

During the 2001-2002 regular hunting season, hunters took 2,039 ducks from PCS Phosphate, including shovelers, gadwalls, ruddy ducks, blue- and green-winged teal, widgeon, ring-necked ducks and scaup. The average daily harvest was two ducks per hunter.

Ducks are generally numerous on this area, with total harvests during the 1999-2000 season at 4,027 (2.9 per hunter) and during the 2000-2001 season at 4,099 (2.6 per hunter).

The area is open to public hunting and is administered by the FWCC through the Lake City regional office (phone 386-758-0525). This area has special regulations and is open to hunting only on certain days. Again, refer to the area brochure for details. Call the regional office for brochures or information or check out the FWCC Web site.

Also in northeast Florida is Guana River WMA - a 9,815-acre tract located in St. Johns County roughly midway between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. This area offers a variety of managed wetland habitat that includes Lake Ponte Vedra, a 2,300-acre brackish impoundment, and several smaller ponds and impoundments in the adjacent uplands. Depending on conditions, hunters may encounter a good variety of ducks at Guana, ranging from teal to diving ducks.

The interior lakes are open for waterfowl hunting only during the general gun and small game seasons when the duck and coot season coincides with those dates. Access to the interior lakes is through the entrance at Guana Dam only.

Lake Ponte Vedra is open only during the first day of each phase (Nov. 23 and Dec. 7) and on Wednesdays and Saturdays during each phase of the regular duck and coot season. Daily permits to hunt on Lake Ponte Vedra are available for 100 hunters on a first-come, first-served basis at the Six-Mile check station for each hunt day during the migratory waterfowl seasons.

Hunting on Lake Ponte Vedra is by boat, and hunters must check in and out of the check station at Six-Mile boat ramp, located on U.S. 1. You must be checked out of the lake by 1 p.m. each day.

During the 2001-2002 regular hunting season, hunters took 1,468 ducks, including shovelers, gadwalls, wood ducks, mottled ducks, blue- and green-winged teal, widgeon, ring-necked ducks and scaup. The average daily harvest was 1.5 ducks per hunter.

During the special Youth Hunt last year, eight youths harvested seven ducks: a blue-winged teal, three green-winged teal, one mottled duck and two scaup.

Hunting on Guana is administered by the FWCC through the Ocala regional office, and the area has specific regulations regarding open days and shooting times. Be sure to read the hunt map for the area before heading out. Maps and information are on the FWCC Web site, or you can call the Guana River WMA office at (904) 825-6877 for more information.

Hickory Mound WMA is a 14,427-acre property located in Taylor County approximately 20 miles west of Perry on the Gulf of Mexico. Hunters can access a brackish impoundment on the area either by wading or by using a small boat (electric motors only allowed). You may find a variety of ducks there, ranging from teal to diving ducks, depending on the status of widgeon grass at the time.

Hickory Mound, too, has specific regulations and is open to hunting only on certain days. Hunters should refer to the area brochure for details or call the FWCC Big Bend Field Office for current information at (850) 838-1306. Maps are available from the FWCC office or online at its Web site.

Merritt Island NWR is located in Brevard County between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway and has long been a favorite of duck hunters. The area generally holds the state's largest concentrations of widgeon and pintails; however, teal, mottled ducks and scaup are also usually plentiful.

The area is intensively managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and hunting is only allowed on specific areas of the refuge during certain times and on certain days. In addition, the refuge coexists with NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Last year, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the duck-hunting season was interrupted when, for security reasons, many portions of the refuge were closed. Refuge officials expect some normalcy to return to the area this year. However, to learn the latest information about what's open and what's not at Merritt Island, check out their Web site, which is located at, or call (321) 861-0667.

"During last winter's waterfowl count, we counted about 54,000 ducks (21,000 puddle ducks and 33,000 scaup and divers) and about 12,000 coots," said refuge biologist Marc Epstein.

Given the great numbers and variety of ducks on the area, hunting pressure is usually high, with shooters generally averaging about two ducks per day, he added.

For much of the duck-hunting season at Merritt Island, a quota permit is required. The old quota application drawing system was eliminated last year and replaced with a new call-in permit system. The refuge staff said the call-in system is much more efficient, since hunters can make their selections over the phone and know immediately if they were successful.

For complete instructions on how to use the new system, visit the refuge's Web site, which is located at or call (321) 861-0667.

Hunters in central Florida might want to check out Emeralda Marsh, in Lake County. This WMA consists of about 6,476 acres o

f natural wetlands, plus agricultural lands that are being restored to wetlands by the St. Johns River Water Management District. The area is located in northeast of Leesburg and east of Lake Griffin.

Duck hunting is allowed during the first day, last day and each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday of the regular duck and coot season. Harvest data is not available, but this area is a favorite among locals.

To hunt on Emeralda Marsh, hunters must possess a water District Hunting Permit in addition to a valid Florida hunting license, plus federal and state duck stamps. A District Hunting Permit may be obtained from the tax collector's office in Lake, Marion, Orange or Sumter counties for $25 and a $1 county processing fee. Hunt permits are non-transferable.

* * *
Before you head to any of these areas, make sure you have a valid Florida hunting license, both state and federal duck stamps, a free Harvest Information Program permit, and, when hunting on wildlife management areas, a WMA stamp. Be sure to check the regulations for any area for additional rules or permit requirements.

Now that you know some easy-to-access public hunting areas, get out there and try some. You might just be surprised at how successful and enjoyable your experience can be.

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