The Truth about Florida’s Deer Rut – Deer Hunting Continues in Florida Zones

  • Moon Phase, Decreasing Daylight, Genetics, Evolution…the Hunter Debate and Science
  • February 2019: “Outta’ the Woods”
FWC white-tailed deer research biologist, Elina Garrison, with a doe captured during the South Florida Deer Research Project. FWC photo.

By Tony Young

There are a lot of theories and differing opinions on what causes the white-tailed deer rut. Hours of daylight decreasing, geographic latitude, genetics, climate, evolution and moon phase are many factors that hunters and deer enthusiasts have debated over the years. To get to the science behind it and learn the facts about what impacts the rut, I asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) white-tailed deer research biologist Elina Garrison.

“As winter approaches, decreased daylight triggers does to come into estrus,” Garrison said. “Latitude therefore plays a part as seasonal day length varies with geographic latitude.”

Some hunters believe deer from other states released in Florida years ago is one of the reasons why the deer rut here is the widest ranging of any state – from July in extreme south Florida to early March in extreme northwest Florida and the Green Swamp Basin.

“While it seems unlikely that genetics due to restocking is the only explanation for the variation in Florida’s breeding dates, there is some research that suggests it may play a part,” Garrison said. “Florida, as were many other southeastern states, was part of restocking efforts in the 1940s through the ’60s when deer were introduced, mostly from Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. The main stocking source for the Green Swamp Basin was from Louisiana. South of there, deer from Texas were mainly used, and north Florida received mainly Wisconsin deer.”

Garrison said climate is a factor, but it really only plays a part in northern, colder states, where the timing of the rut occurs so fawns are born in the spring after the late winter storms and when the most food is available. But they must be born early enough to put on suitable weight and fat to survive the following winter. That’s why there’s such a short window for when breeding must occur in northern states.
The reason the rut varies so much in Florida is because it can, Garrison said. Florida’s relatively mild climate and long growing season allows fawns to be born at various times of the year.

“As far as I know, there are no other states where breeding occurs as early as July and August like it does in extreme south Florida,” she said. “And although difficult to prove, it seems likely it is driven by the hydrological cycles down there. The rut is timed so fawns are born during the driest time of the year, giving them the greatest chance of survival and allowing them to grow to an adequate size before the beginning of the wet season in June.”

Although it is a popular theory among hunters, Garrison says several research projects have proven there is no relationship between the rut and the moon phase. Another interesting fact is the average time a doe stays in heat is about 24 hours.

“The breeding chronology study we did shows that conception dates within an area vary as much as from nine to 110 days, with an average of 45 days, and most does breed within 60 days, meaning rutting activity can occur over a two-month period,” Garrison said.

If a doe is not bred during her first heat, she will come back into estrus again in about 26-28 days, Garrison says. If the doe doesn’t conceive, this cycle can be repeated but normally not more than a few times unless there are not enough bucks to breed all the does. In which case, an area could experience a second or even third peak rut.

If any of this deer talk is getting you fired up to continue hunting this season, then grab your favorite primitive method of take and follow the rut up to the Panhandle and take advantage of Zone D’s late muzzleloader season.

Zone D’s late muzzleloader season

General gun season ends Feb. 17 in zones B and D, but if you’d like to keep hunting deer, Zone D has a late muzzleloading gun season that extends deer hunting opportunities by a week and runs Feb. 18-24 on private lands. The season was established to give hunters an opportunity to continue hunting northwest Florida’s late rut, which runs mid-January through February.

On private land, a $5 muzzleloading gun season permit is required along with a hunting license and $5 deer permit (if hunting deer) to hunt during this season, and hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. But 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.

Public Hunting Opportunities

There are 14 wildlife management areas in Zone D that have a late season in February, but it’s referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Those areas are Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Eglin AFB, Escambia River, Escribano Point, Perdido River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River. Season dates vary by WMA, so be sure to check the brochure for the area you want to hunt.

Hunters may use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Persons with Disabilities Crossbow Permit. Besides a hunting license, $26 management area permit and deer permit (if hunting deer), hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have a $5 archery season permit, and those using a muzzleloader need a $5 muzzleloading gun season permit.

All the licenses and permits you’ll need can be obtained at most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, Florida tax collector offices, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

Legal to Take; Bag Limits

Deer and wild hogs are most commonly hunted during this season. Only legal bucks may be taken (even if using a bow). 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.

On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits for deer on WMAs differ, so consult the area brochure before you go.
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, you may use a leashed dog for tracking purposes. You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it is illegal to use such feed on WMAs. And it’s important to know that turkeys are not legal game during this season.

Happy Hunting!

The 2018-2019 fall/winter hunting seasons may be winding down, however, there are still great opportunities to get out there. This February, catch the hunting excitement of the late rut that occurs during Zone D’s late muzzleloader season.

November “Outta’ the Woods” – It’s a Special Time

Young hunters, like Kingston Johnson here, practice until they're proficient with a bow and arrow before heading to the FLORIDA hunting grounds with an adult mentor. Forrest Fisher Photo

  • Outdoors and Hunting Families Provide a Powerful Sense of Community
  • Hunt Deer and Hogs over a Bait Pile on Private Lands – it’s OK, but NOT OK on any Florida WMA’s
  • Season Dates, General Regulations Explained Below

By Tony Young

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.

Deer-dog hunting

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

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.

Bobwhite quail

Quail season this year runs Nov. 10 – March 3, and the daily bag limit is 12.

Miscellaneous regulations

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.

Being thankful

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.

 

In Florida? Go HOG WILD this spring and summer!

  • Outta’ the Woods – Monday, April 02, 2018
  • Where to go hunt

By Tony Young

Wild pigs can reach weights of more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. Florida Fish & Wildlife Photo

Did you know the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers late spring and summer hog hunts on several wildlife management areas across the state? And you don’t even need a hunting license to participate in these great opportunities.

Wild hogs, also called wild pigs, wild boars and feral pigs, are not native to Florida but were introduced over 500 years ago by Spanish explorers. They can be found in all of Florida’s 67 counties within a wide variety of habitats, but prefer oak-cabbage palm hammocks, freshwater marshes, sloughs and pine flatwoods.

Wild hogs are not protected by law as a game species but are the second most popular large animal hunted in Florida (second only to the white-tailed deer). Wild hogs can weigh more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. They eat plants and animals, and feed by rooting with their broad snouts, which can damage native habitats and ground cover vegetation. It’s easy to spot where hogs have been because they often leave areas looking like plowed fields.

Because of their destructive nature and prolific breeding, and because hunters want more hog hunting opportunities, the FWC, along with help from other public land managers, have been establishing more hog hunts over the past few years. This spring and summer, there will be numerous hog hunts (mostly on weekends) on several WMAs – two of which kick off this month, with the majority of these hunts starting in May. Some offer still hunting for hogs during daylight hours, others are nighttime hog-dog hunts – and half of them offer both.

Most of the areas are walk-in and don’t require a quota permit. All that is needed to hunt hogs on the following areas during these listed spring and summer dates is a $26.50 management area permit, which can be purchased in Florida at county tax collectors’ offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting/fishing supplies, and with a credit card by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

But before you go, be sure to go online at MyFWC.com/WMAbrochures and check out the area’s regulations brochure to find out all the specific details on the hunt, including access, allowable methods of take, hunting hours, rules on camping and more.

2018 spring and summer hog hunting is available on these WMAs during the following dates, and no quota permit is needed:

Terry Horton Hog

Andrews
(Levy County) Still hunting only: 25 daily quota permits available each day at check station on first-come basis

May 4-6, 11-13

Apalachicola Bradwell Unit
(Liberty County)

Dog Hunt

May 4-6
June 1-3
July 13-15
Aug. 3-5
Sept. 7-9

Still Hunt

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Apalachicola River
(Franklin and Gulf counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Aucilla
(Jefferson and Taylor counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 7-9

Hog Matt ShulerBeaverdam Creek
(Liberty County)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Blackwater
(Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 4-6, 18-20
June 1-3, 15-17
July 6-8, 20-22
Aug. 3-5, 17-19
Sept. 7-9, 21-23

Blackwater Hutton Unit
(Santa Rosa County)

Dog and Still Hunting

May 18-20
June 15-17
July 20-22
Aug. 17-19
Sept. 21-23

Chipola River
(Jackson and Calhoun counties)

Still hunting only

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Escambia River
(Escambia and Santa Rosa counties)

Still and dog hunting

May 11-13
June 8-10
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

John G. and Susan H. DuPuis Jr.
(Martin County)

Still hunting only

April 14-22
May 12-20

Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Area
(Osceola and Polk counties)

Still and dog hunting

Open to year-round hog hunting

Management area permit not required

Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Rolling Meadows Unit
(Polk county)

Still and dog hunting

Open to year-round hog hunting

Management area permit not required

Ochlockonee River
(Leon County)

Still hunting only

May 4-6
June 1-3
July 6-8
Aug. 3-5
Sept. 7-9

Richloam
(Sumter and Lake counties)

Dog hunting only

April 27-29

Royce Unit – Lake Wales Ridge
(Highlands County)

Still Hunting Only

May 5-6, 12-13

Yellow River
(Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties)

Still hunting only

July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 7-9

 


These hog hunts (below) require a quota permit, and they can be applied for between May 15 – June 15 at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com External Website:

Box-R
(Franklin and Gulf Counties)

Dog Hunting Only

May 11-13 *
June 8-10 *
July 13-15
Aug. 10-12
Sept. 14-16

Jennings Forest
(Clay and Duval counties)

Still hunting only

May 4-6 *, 18-20 *
June 1-3 *