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Deer hunting is still goin' strong in Zone D!

Hunting season has been pretty good so far. I shot a 170-pound 7-point and a doe during “doe week” in Zone C. Then, I shot another doe on the first day of Zone D’s antlerless deer season.

What made that hunt so cool was that I took it off some property I have on the Sopchoppy River that’s less than an acre in size! And, it was the very first time I'd ever even hunted it since I bought the 70-foot-wide lot in 2005 – making it the first deer I ever harvested on land I own. I think that’s pretty neat.

But, I still have a little room left in my freezer, and I’m not calling it quits just yet. After all, there are still lots of hunting days left in my neck of the woods, and my game camera is still taking pictures of some pretty good bucks – although they are mostly at night.

If you’re like me, or if you live in the central or southern part of the state and don’t mind hunting with a primitive weapon, then point your pickup truck north, because Zone D’s deer season’s still goin’ strong on private lands and on many WMAs.

The second phase (if you will) of muzzleloading gun season runs Feb. 21-27 in this part of the Panhandle. This unique late season, which occurs only in Zone D, was established to give hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which runs from late January through February in that part of the state.

A $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit is required to hunt during this season, during which, on private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. Of course, you’ll also need a hunting license, which costs residents $17 for an annual one – or you may opt to purchase a five-year license for $79.

On WMAs, this post-season is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a Disabled Crossbow Permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 Archery Permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the $5 Muzzleloading Gun Permit.

The most common game to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and one antler must be at least 5 inches in length. If you’re hunting deer, make sure you have the new $5 Deer Permit first.

On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits and antler size for deer on WMAs can differ, so please consult the area brochure before you hunt.

Wild hogs are not considered game animals on private lands, so they can be taken year-round with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limits, and 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 to make sure.

During this season, dogs may not be used to hunt deer; however, you may use a leashed one to track a wounded deer. It’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.

Bows and crossbows must have minimum draw weights of 35 pounds, and 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 the muzzleloading gun season, you may use only muzzleloaders that take black powder or a non-nitro-cellulose substitute and are fired by wheel lock, flintlock or percussion cap ignition (including 209 primers). You may not use muzzleloaders that require smokeless powder or those with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities.

For hunting deer, muzzleloaders that fire single bullets must be at least .40-caliber, and those firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger.

You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it’s illegal on WMAs.

Twelve of the WMAs in Zone D have the late archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 management area permit as well. Nine of those areas don’t require a quota permit during this period: Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell, Upper Chipola River and Yellow River WMAs.

Once you’ve decided where to hunt, grab that area’s brochure from the local tax collector’s office or from MyFWC.com/Hunting, because dates, bag limits and rules and regulations can differ greatly for each area. For instance, on Tate’s Hell, you may take only bucks with forked antlers.

Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days To all parents out there: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has established Feb. 5-6 as this year’s statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. That weekend is specifically set up for children under 16 to hunt waterfowl, coots and common moorhens while being supervised by an adult (18 years or older). Only the kids can hunt; adults may only assist. No licenses or permits are needed, including federal duck stamps.

The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck, one fulvous whistling-duck and one canvasback. Two can be pintails, redheads or scaup; and three may be wood ducks.

And you may have no more than four scoters and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks (harvest prohibited). The daily limit on coots and common moorhens is 15, and there’s a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.

Youngsters also may take light geese during Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This includes snow, blue and Ross’ geese; and there’s a 15-bird daily bag limit on any combination. Canada geese may be taken as well, and the daily bag limit on them is five.

Shotguns are the only firearms that kids are allowed to use, and they’re not permitted to use one larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).

Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset, and waterfowl hunters may use only nontoxic shotgun shells. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various shot made from tungsten-alloy are permissible. No lead shot can even be in your possession, so leave those shells in the truck or at home.

Retrieving dogs, like labs, may be used. Artificial decoys and manual or mouth-operated bird calls are legal and essential gear for duck hunters.

Scattering agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting is strictly forbidden. Feed such as corn, wheat or salt cannot be present where you’re hunting, nor can such baiting be used to attract birds, even if the bait’s placed quite a distance away from where you’re hunting.

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By Tony Young

FWC Media Relations Coordinator,

Division of Hunting and Game Management