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Join the Dove Club; apply for St. Vincent Island hunts

To me, the best part about hunting is not harvesting game – but spending quality time outdoors with friends and family. One of the best ways to do that is dove hunting, which is one reason why great dove hunts are in such high demand, but often difficult to find.

That’s why the FWC created its Special-Opportunity Dove Club Program – to offer hunters the chance of experiencing exceptional dove hunting on the state’s best public dove fields.

Dove Club permits enable one adult and one youth (under age 16) to hunt all scheduled dates for the dove field of their choice. Permits cost $150 and enable both hunters to take a daily bag limit of birds each. There are eight hunts on all but one of the selected dove fields (Caravelle Ranch has six), and all hunts are from noon until sunset and take place on Saturdays, starting Oct. 1 and ending Jan. 7.

Last year, 1,865 birds were harvested from six fields. This coming season, there again will be six special-opportunity dove fields scattered throughout the state from which to choose.

Allapattah Flats Public Small-Game Hunting Area (PSGHA) in Martin County east of Lake Okeechobee will have 13 Dove Club permits available for the 100-acre field. Participants last year took an average of more than six birds per hunter per day, harvesting 644 birds.

North Newberry PSGHA in Alachua County has 13 Dove Club permits on its 40 acres. That field didn’t produce as well last year, but yielded 410 doves two seasons ago.

Another field is on Combs Farm PSGHA in Baker County, where there are 13 Dove Club permits for the 35 acres. Hunters took better than two birds each per day for a total of 186 birds last year.

Caravelle Ranch in Putnam County has a 200-acre dove field with 30 Dove Club permits available. Last season, 249 doves were harvested there.

The dove field on Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in Lake County has 15 Dove Club permits available to hunt its 58 acres. Hunters there last season took 490 doves, which equated to a 2.5-birds-per-hunter, per day average.

The remaining special-opportunity dove field, Frog Pond PSGHA in Miami-Dade County, has been a top producer in past years, and 246 birds were taken there last season, for nearly a 2-birds-per-hunter, per day average. Fifteen Dove Club permits are available to hunt its 50 acres.

Dove Club permits will be issued by random drawing during Phase I. That application period is July 1-18.

After obtaining the correct application worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking on “Limited Entry Hunts,” you can apply for these season passes by filling out a single worksheet (with up to five dove field choices) and turning it in at any county tax collector’s office, license agent or by going online to www.fl.wildlifelicense.com. During Phase I, hunters may be awarded a permit for only one dove field.

If you’re successful in getting drawn, you must pick up and pay for your Dove Club permit at any of the same places mentioned above by Aug. 8. Check for drawing results in late July at MyFWC.com/Hunting, again by clicking “Limited Entry Hunts.” Any applicant who provides his email address will be notified by email if drawn.

Brochures on each of these areas are available online at MyFWC.com/Dove. At that same web address, beginning in late September, hunters will also be able to find the most up-to-date information on these six special-opportunity dove fields, as well as Florida’s other public dove fields. The website is updated every Thursday throughout dove season, and information includes dove densities, previous weeks’ harvests and field conditions.

Hunters looking to rough it a bit might like to apply for one of two hunts on the 12,490-acre, undeveloped barrier island of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, located within Franklin County in Northwest Florida. There, the hunt’s on for white-tailed deer and unlimited wild hogs and raccoons.

The first hunt takes place Nov. 17-19 and is an archery-only hunt. Only vertical bows may be used, unless a hunter has a Disabled Crossbow Permit, in which case a crossbow could be used.

During the second hunt, primitive weapons can be used – bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders – Jan. 19-21, 2012. There are 250 permits available for each of the two hunts at a cost of $25 each.

You can get to St. Vincent Island only by boat, and if you don’t bring your own, you can make a deal with one of the local charter captains to take you to the island and bring you back after the hunt. For a list of boat captains that offer this service, contact the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

The island has no electricity, so it’s all about primitive camping for three days. You’re allowed to have a small campfire, using only wood you bring with you or deadwood you find on the ground. I suggest you bring a bicycle, unless you want to walk everywhere.

If you do harvest any game though, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff will come pick up you and your animal in one of their trucks. That’s the only way you’re catchin’ a ride in a motorized vehicle, unless you’re a hunter with a disability. Those hunters receive special accommodations and transportation to and from their hunting spots.

If you’d like to purchase a permit for one or both of these primitive hunts, get ahold of the appropriate worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking on “Limited Entry Hunts.”

Once you’ve completed it, you may buy the permit at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com or from any county tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, beginning 10 a.m. (EDT) on July 14. But you had better be quick, ’cause these permits are being offered first-come, first-served until they’re gone!

So if you’d like to join the FWC’s Dove Club or prefer the solitude of hunting whitetails and wild hogs on St. Vincent Island, you need to apply for your permit in July.

Here’s wishing you luck in getting drawn for the hunt of a lifetime.

Remember to introduce someone new to hunting whenever you can, and, as always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!

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By Tony Young

FWC Media Relations Coordinator,

Division of Hunting and Game Management