Outta' the woods

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It’s still not too late to take a kid duck hunting this year or go deer hunting in Zone D’s late muzzleloader season.

“Waterfowl hunting takes you to places you would probably not otherwise find yourself. There’s nothing quite like the marsh coming alive with teeming wildlife at first light,” said John Hitchcock, president of Florida Wetlands Forever. “And it’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time afield with a young person and help pass on the hunting tradition to the next generation.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, established Feb. 3-4 as this year’s statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. That weekend was specifically set up for children 15 and younger to hunt while supervised by anyone 18 or older. Make plans now for next year.

“Hunting waterfowl can teach a youth a unique awareness and appreciation for the outdoors and expand their understanding of wetland habitat, the importance of conservation and an awareness of where our food comes from,” Hitchcock said.

Only kids 15 and younger may hunt with adults only assisting and no licenses or permits are needed, including federal duck stamps, on these two days. And if you’re not a duck hunter but your child is showing an interest, the FWC can assist you at MyFWC.com/NewHunter.

Hitchcock offers these tips for new hunters.

He said teach them gun safety “and let them become familiar with the gun they will be shooting,” Hitchcock said. “Keep the hunt simple and teach hunting regulations as you go.” He said closely observe what the young hunter does with their gun, “and make sure they understand their shooting zone and the importance of keeping their gun barrel pointed in that safe direction.”

Youth waterfowl regulations

Youth can hunt ducks, light geese, Canada geese, mergansers, coots and common moorhens during the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. Bag limits and other regulations are at MyFWC.com/Hunting; click on “Duck/Waterfowl” then “2017-2018 Migratory Bird Season Dates and Bag Limits.”

Zone D’s late muzzleloader season

Zone D has a late muzzleloading gun season that extends deer hunting by a week after general gun ends, and runs Feb. 19-25 on private lands. The season was established to give hunters an opportunity to continue hunting the rut, which runs from mid-January through February in northwest Florida.

A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season. On private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. A hunting license is also needed, which costs residents $17 annually – or folks can opt to purchase a five-year license for only $79.

On wildlife management areas, this post-season becomes archery/muzzleloading gun season. Dates vary by WMA, so consult each area’s brochure. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Persons with Disabilities Crossbow Permit. Bow hunters must have the $5 archery permit, and muzzleloader hunters need the $5 muzzleloading permit.

Legal to take; bag limits

Deer and wild hogs are most commonly hunted during this season. Only legal bucks may be taken (includes bowhunting). South of Interstate 10 in Deer Management Unit D1, one antler must have at least two points. North of I-10 in DMU D2, all bucks must have at least three points on one side or have a main beam of at least 10 inches long to be legal to take.

If hunting deer, you’ll need the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Season dates, bag limits and antler regulations for deer on WMAs may differ, so check before you hunt.

There are no year-round bag or size limits for hogs on private lands and most WMAs. Hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the area’s brochure.

Hunting regulations

During the late muzzleloader season on private lands and archery/muzzleloading gun season on WMAs, dogs may not be used to hunt deer. However, leashed dogs are allowed for tracking. Turkeys are off-limits during this season.

Bows and crossbows must have minimum draw weights of 35 pounds. Hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.

During this late season, the only muzzleloaders allowed are those fired by wheel lock, flintlock, percussion cap or centerfire primer (including 209 primers) that cannot be loaded from the breech. For hunting deer, muzzleloading rifles must be at least .40-caliber, and muzzleloading shotguns must be 20-gauge or larger.

Legal shooting hours are between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it is illegal to use feed on WMAs.

Public hunting opportunity

In Zone D, 12 of the WMAs have a February archery/muzzleloading gun season, which requires a $26 management area permit. Those areas are Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Perdido River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River.

Licenses and permits are sold at most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, Florida tax collector offices, 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or GoOutdoorsFlorida.com online.

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