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by Chuck Echenique

New Deer Season Dates and Zones

Over the last two years, Florida’s Deer Management Team Advisory Group (DMTAG) has been working to revamp deer hunting in Florida.

Once the 10-year strategic plan was developed and put in place, the DMTAG board was asked to advise FWC staff on changing the hunting zones and season dates to better capture hunter satisfaction and rut dates.

After several drafts and a few outside proposals (some from yours truly), the current working proposal was devised and released last month.

First, this draft proposal is only a draft – a starting point from which discussion can stem and changes to the current season dates and hunting zones can be tweaked and ultimately implemented. To view the complete proposal, go to www.MyFWC.com/deer, where you can see the proposed changes, doe conception (rut) dates and complete an on-line survey as to what you like and dislike about this new proposal.

Over the last several years, Florida’s hunters have been complaining that season dates do not coincide with the rutting period in their areas. Hunters in the South Zone have commented that their rut is over by the time archery season begins, and bucks have shed their antler long before the gun season ends.

Meanwhile, hunters in the Panhandle have expressed their dissatisfaction over the fact that their season split occurs at the same time as peak rutting activity in many areas across their zone. And hunters in the West Central area around Tampa and Lakeland have stated that deer rutting activity has not even begun by the time general gun season ends.

In order to capture all those varied rutting behaviors, FWC staff, under the new leadership of Deer Management Program Coordinator Cory Morea, devised the most recent proposal. Essentially, the draft plan would create two new zones: one on the west central coast of Florida and one between the Aucilla and the Apalachicola Rivers.

It also staggers hunting dates:

• So hunting season starts earlier in the south (Aug. 1 – Jan. 2) with a split gun season,

• Later on the west coast (Oct. 1 – Jan. 31),

• Earlier in the new northern zone (Oct. 3 – Jan. 31), and

• Later in the northwest (Oct. 31 – Feb. 28) with a split gun season that allows general gun to run until the end of February.

One main focus of the proposal is an emphasis on getting kids into the woods during the holidays. Every zone will have open gun seasons during the Thanksgiving and

Christmas holiday breaks. Further, every zone will have “doe week” during the Thanksgiving holiday, allowing children and families better opportunity to harvest does.

In order to gauge public response, FWC staff is holding a series of public meetings to discuss the new proposals.

There are two meetings remaining (see below). To date, the support for the new proposal has been very positive with a few exceptions.

However, there is one major sticking point that no one seems to like. If accepted and approved, this proposal is scheduled to be implemented only on private land for the 2010-11 season.

Overwhelmingly, the public outcry has been in favor of making the changes take effect at the same time on both private and public land. No one wants to be hunting on a WMA with a bow and hear guns going off across the fence. It’s a good way to stir up animosity between public and private land hunters. Both sides want to see this avoided.

While it was not unanimous on the DMTAG team, the majority of its members also stated that their constituency groups would like to see the changes implemented on public and private land in the same hunting season.

However, the FWC has made it clear that any changes to public land hunting season dates could not be implemented until 2011-12 due to the amount of time needed. The FWC says the purpose of the changes is to improve the timing of the deer season for ALL hunters on private or public land, and it is their intent to apply changes to WMAs, wherever possible, the following year.

FWC staff believes zone and season changes need to be developed and approved by the Commission prior to making season changes on the more than 130 WMAs statewide, many of which have seasons set up to target the rut specifically for that area. Some may need only minor adjustments (based on possible changes to zones and seasons), but there are a number of complex scenarios on public lands that make adjusting them a time-consuming prospect.

FWC wants to bring a recommendation to the Commission for final approval at the February 2010 meeting, then begin the year-long second step in the process to consider changes to WMAs statewide for the 2011-2012 season.

Personally, I think the proposal addresses most of the concerns hunters have raised over the last several years in a very straight-forward and easy-to-understand manner.

It is my hope that we can pass this proposal and move towards bringing public land in line for the following season. Or, at least accept the changes and hold off on implementing them until it can be done simultaneously on all hunting land statewide.

Future items to look for on the FWC Deer Management Team agenda include: a deer tag system, season bag limits, and harvest call-in reports. The FWC has listened to our complaints and is finally willing to work toward implementing the changes for which we’ve been clamoring.

Let the FWC and us here at WNW know what you think. Be sure to fill out the comment cards online. Email me (hunt[email protected]) or WNW ([email protected]) for how. You can also go to the FWC deer page (www.MyFWC.com/deer) and click the survey link. With your help, we can make deer hunting in Florida something special.

Chuck Echenique is a Florida native, outdoorsman and hunter who owns Rebel Yelp Calls and Outfitters in Thonotosassa, Florida. Chuck attended whitetail biology classes at Auburn University. He has served on the board of the NWTF Tampa Chapter, Ducks Unlimited, Quails Unlimited, SCI, RMEF, Buckmasters, NRA and NAHC. He has served as a hunter education instructor and a turkey hunting guide since 1995.