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FWC proposes new hunting zones, season dates

by Tony Young

FWC Media Relations Coordinator

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) “Deer Management Team” is ready to gather input from Florida’s hunters on potential changes to the state’s current hunting zones and corresponding deer hunting season dates, which if approved, could come into effect as early as the 2010-2011 hunting season.

The team has met for two and a half years, developing its living-and-breathing “Strategic Plan for Deer Management in Florida 2008-2018,” which was approved by the FWC last year.

FWC staff continues to work with its stakeholder group – representing many of the state’s hunting and conservation organizations/associations, other governmental agencies and large private landowners – to make this plan the very best it can be.

The project is under the new leadership of Deer Management Program coordinator Cory Morea, but the plan’s objectives and goals remain the same – “to ensure a healthy deer population that meets the public’s desires for recreational hunting, while protecting landowners’ rights and ensuring the long-term welfare of the species.”

Currently, Florida is divided into three hunting zones:

• the South Zone, lying below State Road 70;

• the Central Zone, located between State Road 70 and Tallahassee; and

• the Northwest Hunting Zone, located west of Tallahassee.

These three zones all have different beginning and ending hunting season dates. Deer hunting kicks off every year in the South Zone in early September, beginning with archery season and ending in the Northwest Zone in late February with a late muzzleloading gun season.

Female deer come into heat very early in the southern portion of the state, but come in much later in the Panhandle. This is why the zones and season dates are set up like they are – to correspond roughly with when deer breed, allowing hunters the opportunity to hunt the rut.

Although, under the current system the hunting seasons do occur during some portion of rutting activity throughout much of the state, hunters in certain South Florida areas and in portions of the Panhandle are unable to hunt the peak rutting times. In addition, bucks often shed their antlers before hunting season ends in southern portions of the state.

Because of this, the deer team is considering having more hunting zones (instead of the current three) with different starting and ending dates that can be spread out to encompass more of the full rut throughout the state.

Within the hunting zones, the plan is to create deer management units (DMUs) in order to help manage Florida’s deer population on a more local level and better meet the needs and desires of local hunting communities.

The team is looking to develop about a dozen DMUs based on habitat and deer breeding chronology data. Deer herds within these DMUs should have similar characteristics, like reproductive rates, body sizes and antler-growth potential. Whenever possible, major roads and rivers will be used as DMU boundary lines to make them easy to distinguish.

The FWC has scheduled six public meetings around the state near key metropolitan areas to gather input from the hunting public on potential changes to hunting zones and season dates. The agency wants to solicit as much public comment as possible and everyone is invited.

The meetings will be an open-house-type format with the Deer Management Team making a presentation, followed by question and answer sessions with individual team members to give hunters more one-on-one time with FWC staff.

To find the date and time of a meeting near you, see the box on the following page. Also check MyFWC.com/Hunting for an updated proposal.

And I want to make something clear before I go – the concepts you will hear if you attend one of these meetings are just a starting point. At the meetings, you will have the opportunity to voice your opinion and write down any comments you may have. It is these public comments and any new scientific data that may be discovered that will have an effect on any changes that are made to these concepts.

If you care about deer hunting in Florida, get involved!

Editor’s Note: Other proposals that may be considered include a tag-and-report system that would require hunters to tag deer immediately after the take, and shortly afterwards report the harvest by calling a toll-free telephone number or entering the info through the Internet.