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.

Catch a Florida Memory with south Florida angler, Allison Stattner

Learn more about Catch a Florida Memory programs and submit catches today at CatchaFloridaMemory.com.

In the Catch a Florida Memory program, catch-and-release fishing and responsible fish handling practices are encouraged to help minimize stress on fish. Anglers do not have to harvest their catches to qualify! Florida FWC Photo

By Amanda Nalley – Florida FWC

Allison Stattner is rocking the fishing world. A participant in Florida’s Saltwater Angler Recognition programs, Stattner is one of only a handful of elite Saltwater Fish Life List “30 Fish Club” members, joining the ranks when she checked the permit of a lifetime off her list back in May. This means she has caught and documented 30 of 71 different species of fish in Florida and has been rewarded for her fishing efforts.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Saltwater Fish Life List is part of the Catch a Florida Memory program and is designed to increase the diversity of saltwater fish targeted by anglers, reducing fishing pressure on the most commonly sought-after fishes. The wide array of species also leads anglers to try different fishing locations and techniques, expanding experiences for avid anglers and cultivating interest in fishing for those new to the sport.

Stattner’s permit was caught while fishing out of Bahia Honda Key. She was ready to head back in from a day of tarpon fishing, but the captain suggested that she throw out one last bait before slack tide.

“The reel started screaming faster than any other tarpon bites,” said Stattner. “We waited for the fish to jump. Nothing. Maybe 15 minutes later I started to see color off the bow – my permit daydream!” Stattner posed for a quick photo with her catch, then released the estimated 35- to 40-pound permit back into the water.

Only 10 other anglers currently hold the “30 Fish Club” distinction for Catch a Florida Memory’s Saltwater Fish Life List.

Anglers receive prizes and recognition as they work on their Saltwater Fish Life List, starting with the “10 Fish Club.” The “50 Fish Club” and “71 Fish Club” distinctions have yet to be reached, so the big question is: Who will complete their Saltwater Fish Life List and become the first Life List Master Angler?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Saltwater Fish Life List is part of the Catch a Florida Memory program and is designed to increase the diversity of saltwater fish targeted by anglers

The Saltwater Fish Life List isn’t the only way to get recognized through Catch a Florida Memory. Anglers of all ages and skill levels can also earn prizes when they submit a Saltwater Grand Slam (three specified fish caught in 24 hours) or Saltwater Reel Big Fish (30 different species that meet a minimum qualifying length).

Catch-and-release fishing and responsible fish handling practices are encouraged to help minimize stress on fish, and anglers do not have to harvest their catches to qualify. Photos of the angler with each fish are required.

For more information:

Help NESTING SEA TURTLES, Keep Beaches Dark and Free of Obstacles at Night

  • Bright Beachfront Lighting Can MISDIRECT Nesting Sea Turtles -Turn it Off
  • Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green SEA TURTLES are Nesting Right Now
  • Report Sick, Injured or Entangled Sea Turtles to FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)
Nesting loggerhead sea turtle. Photo by Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Keeping beaches dark at night and free of obstacles will help sea turtles during their nesting season, which begins in Florida on March 1 and lasts through the end of October.

Bright artificial lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones at night. Turning out lights or closing curtains and shades in buildings along the beach after dark will ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. Clearing away boats and beach furniture at the end of the day and filling in holes in the sand are also important because turtles can become trapped in furniture and get trapped in holes on the beach.

Florida’s beachfront residents and visitors taking these actions will help conserve the loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles that nest on the state’s coastlines.

“Keeping Florida’s beaches dark and uncluttered at night can help protect sea turtles that return to nest on our beaches,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who heads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) sea turtle management program. “Many agency partners, such as nature centers, marine turtle permit holders and local governments, contribute greatly to sea turtle conservation. But caring beachgoers can also make a significant difference in helping nesting and hatchling sea turtles survive.”

Exactly when sea turtle nesting season starts depends on where you are in Florida. While it begins in March on the Atlantic coast from Brevard through Broward counties, it starts later in the spring, in late April or May, along the northeast Atlantic, the Keys and Gulf coasts.

Wherever you are, other ways to help sea turtles include properly disposing of fishing line to avoid entanglements, and reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.

Purchasing a “Helping Sea Turtles Survive”  Florida license plate at Buyaplate.com  contributes to sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal.

Go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle for more information on Florida’s sea turtles, then click on “Research,” then “Nesting” for more data on sea turtle nesting.

Photos are available on the FWC’s Flickr site: http://bit.ly/2bwCAj5.  Sea turtle nesting video B-roll available on FWC’s Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/257783160 

FWC – Gone Coastal Column is Back

Captain Sean-Goddard of Inshore 2-Offshore Charters shares a nice Tampa Bay sheepshead caught in a secret, uncrowded hotspot not more than one mile from the boat launch. Visit https://www.inshore2offshore.com for detailed info. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Amanda Nalley

For those many of us that fish the many forms of Florida coastal waterways, we are always searching to know more about life in the sea and all of those things that affect that life. In a recent column by Amanda Nalley, you may be happy to know that there is now another source to check or updated information. Nalley shares her news and story below:

It’s been a while, and we’ve missed you. After a long hiatus, Gone Coastal, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management column is back in action with some changes.

You may not be seeing us around quite as much as you used to though. Gone Coastal is going quarterly. Why? Because we have new friends for you to enjoy in the form of videos.

The Marine Fisheries Management Division now has a YouTube channel  called FWC Saltwater Fishing. You can get there easily by going to MyFWC.com/SaltwaterFishing. Check out new updates weekly on various subjects from how-to videos to artificial reef deployments.

Have a burning question about marine fisheries regulations? Want to know more about catch-and-release? We are here for you. Send your questions, photos, and fishing tales to Saltwater@MyFWC.com. Make sure your photo meets our photo requirements by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing, clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” scrolling down to “Get Involved” and clicking on “Submit a photograph!.” Learn more about our Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs and how you can “Catch a Florida Memory” by visiting MyFWC.com/AnglerRecognition or contacting AnglerRecognition@MyFWC.com. And don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at www.snookfoundation.org.

Gone Coastal is one of many ways the FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are available to answer questions by phone or email, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations.

To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

Florida Uses Science/Data to Manage Black Bears

The increasing black bear population of Florida is under scientific study and management by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Forrest Fisher Photo
  • Florida Bear Population Estimated at 4,030
  • Radio Telemetry Part of Study

To continue the cutting-edge science being conducted on Florida’s black bears, FWC researchers recently placed radio-collars on 16 adult female bears to track their movements in and around Tate’s Hell State Forest in northwest Florida. Data collected from this study will allow FWC researchers to better understand bear population dynamics in this area, which will further guide the agency’s comprehensive bear management program. This month, FWC bear researchers and one of the nation’s leading bear scientists, Dr. Joseph D. Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Tennessee, released the final modeling results estimating Florida’s black bear population at 4,030, up from a few hundred bears in the 1970s.

FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley said, “The latest science has confirmed that Florida’s black bear population is robust and widespread. Now FWC bear researchers are collecting data on this important bear population in northwest Florida. These data will guide our science-based decision making process as we work to best balance the safety and well-being of Florida’s communities with growing black bear populations across our state.”

The GPS collars on the female bears periodically record their locations using satellite telemetry and transmit those locations to researchers. These specially-tailored collars are designed to drop off in a certain amount of time and do not affect normal bear behavior. The collars can also send an alert if the bear stops moving for an extended period of time, indicating the bear may have denned for the winter or died.

Researchers will visit winter dens to see how many cubs are present, and then will put small, specially-made collars on the cubs to see how many of them survive their first year. Over the next three years this study will provide the FWC with more population information, including adult female survival rate, the age they first reproduce, the time between litters of cubs, the average number of cubs per litter, and cub survival rate. All of this information can be used to model population dynamics, including annual population growth rate.

Researchers have already noticed the collared bears are starting to become more active. FWC’s bear experts have observed this throughout the state. During the fall, bear appetites increase as they begin a natural process of putting on fat for the winter. To be prepared for winter, bears require around 20,000 calories a day and will actively seek out and consume any convenient food source. This draws more bears into areas where people live and work, which can be potentially dangerous. FWC urges Floridians to be more aware of what they can do to help prevent human-bear conflicts.

The agency is currently accepting proposals from local governments to receive a portion of $825,000 in bear-conflict-reduction funding. Proposals are due by October 14, 2016.

For more information on bear management in Florida, go to the BearWise page at MyFWC.com/BearWise or the general bear page MyFWC.com/bear.

Florida Seeks Public Input on Anchoring and Mooring Rules

The FWC has posted a brief online survey to learn public feedback about mooring and anchoring, please go to MyFWC.com/Boating to participate. Forrest Fisher Photo

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking feedback from cruising boaters, local boaters and other residents in evaluating the state’s Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program, and related ordinances.

The FWC has posted a brief online survey to accept this feedback. It should take approximately five to 10 minutes to complete and will be available to the public Oct. 1-9. Any input is greatly appreciated in evaluating and improving boating in Florida.

The Florida Legislature established the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program in 2009. The intent was to explore potential options for regulating the anchoring or mooring of non-live-aboard vessels outside the marked boundaries of public mooring fields throughout the state.

After public input, the FWC selected the cities of St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Stuart (in conjunction with Martin County) and the cities of Key West and Marathon (in conjunction with Monroe County) as five sites for the pilot program. They were granted temporary authority to regulate mooring in their jurisdictional waters through local ordinances.

All ordinances enacted under authority of the pilot program will expire on July 1, 2017, and will be inoperative and unenforceable thereafter, unless re-enacted by the Legislature.

Participation in the survey will help determine the effectiveness of the program, developed ordinances, and a variety of concepts related to specific restrictions on anchoring of vessels which may be considered in the future.

To access the survey and for more information, go to MyFWC.com/Boating.