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2009-10 Florida Bag Limits and Seasons

(Editor's note- Remember to check the the Sportsman's Calendar in the Resource Room for additional season dates)

Football season is in full swing, and the 2009-10 hunting season is starting to crank up. Already, archery season has been going on in most of the state, and in this issue, I’d like to cover the rules and regulations regarding four additional seasons that get underway in October – crossbow, muzzleloading gun, the first phase of dove and deer-dog training. If you’re a still-hunter and have access to hunt private land, now’s the time to start planting your winter food plots. Any mixture of wheat, oats, clover, turnips or winter peas will undoubtedly help bring in deer and turkey.

If you plant at the beginning of October, you’ll have nice green patches to hunt over by the end of the month. Crossbow season, which occurs only on private lands, fits between archery and muzzleloading gun in the South and Central hunting zones, lasting five days: Oct. 12-16 and Oct. 26-30, respectively. In the Northwest Zone, it comes in later, on the Monday (Nov. 30) after Thanksgiving and runs one week, through Dec. 6.

Crossbow season is for any hunter who’d like to use a crossbow or continue using a bow on private lands. This is not just for disabled hunters. But, there’s no crossbow season on wildlife management areas (WMAs), although you may use a crossbow during those areas’ general gun, small-game and spring turkey seasons, if you’d like.

The most common game to take during crossbow season are deer and wild hogs. Unlike archery season, during crossbow season, only bucks may be taken, and one antler must be at least 5 inches in length visible above the hairline. The daily bag limit on antlered deer is two. On private land with landowner permission, wild hogs can be hunted year-round with no bag or size limits.

In addition to big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during crossbow season. Only one may be taken per day, and there’s a two-bird fall-season limit. It’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County during this period, and you can’t shoot turkeys while on the roost, over bait, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls.

Gray squirrel, quail and rabbit are three other species legal to take during crossbow season, and there’s a daily bag limit of 12 for each. Crossbows and bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds. Hand-held releases on bows are permitted. For deer, hog and turkey, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.

Legal shooting hours are between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. Except for turkeys, hunters are permitted to take resident game over feed such as corn and soybeans. It’s against the law, however, to use such bait on WMAs at any time.

Some things you can’t do during crossbow season include: hunting deer, hog or turkey with dogs; shooting swimming deer; using unleashed dogs (except bird dogs); using explosive or drug-injecting arrows and possessing firearms.

Muzzleloading season begins immediately following the close of crossbow season in the South and Central zones. Season dates run Oct. 17-25 and Oct. 31 – Nov. 8, respectively. The first phase of muzzleloading season runs Nov. 20-22 in the Northwest Zone.

In some areas of the Central Hunting Zone the crossbow and muzzleloading gun seasons actually occur at the same time as the rut and offer a great chance at taking a quality whitetail. Those areas include the counties of Hamilton, Columbia, Manatee and Hardee. The rut also occurs during the muzzleloading season dates on Half Moon WMA, Three Lakes WMA and Avon Park Air Force Range.

During muzzleloading gun season, bows and crossbows are legal methods of taking game on private lands, along with, of course, muzzleloaders. On WMAs, only muzzleloaders may be used.

Legal shooting hours, legal-to-take game, bag limits and other rules are the same for muzzleloading gun season as for crossbow season. Bag limits and antler/size restrictions for game on WMAs can differ, so please check the WMA’s brochure before you hunt.

For hunting deer, muzzleloaders firing single bullets must be at least .40-caliber. Guns firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger. You may not use muzzleloaders with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities or possess modern firearms during muzzleloading gun season. DOVE SEASON’s first phase starts Oct. 3 and runs through Oct. 26 statewide for mourning and white-winged dove. Shooting hours during this first phase are noon to sunset, and the daily bag limit is 15 birds.

The only firearm you’re allowed to hunt doves with is a shotgun, but you can’t use one larger than a 10-gauge. Also, shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined).

You may hunt doves over an agricultural field, as long as the crop’s been planted as part of regular agricultural practices. However, it’s against the law to scatter agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting.

Retrievers or bird dogs can be used, and they can be quite an asset when trying to locate those hard-to-find birds. If you’re up for the challenge, you may even use a bow or crossbow, and birds of prey also can be used to take doves by properly permitted individuals practicing the sport of falconry.

Some things you can’t do while dove hunting are: using rifles or pistols; shooting from a moving vehicle; or herding or driving doves with a vehicle. If you happen to shoot a dove with a metal band around its leg, please report it by calling toll-free 800-327-BAND. This band-recovery data is critical for good dove management and a better understanding of migration patterns. By reporting this information, you’ll be able to find out when and where your bird was banded.

Deer-dog training season also begins in October. Anyone possessing a hunting license may train or toughen free-running deer dogs during daylight hours Oct. 3-22 in the South and Central hunting zones and Oct. 31 – Nov. 19 in the Northwest Zone.

All dogs used in pursuing or hunting deer must wear a collar or tag displaying the name and address of the dog’s owner. Hunters must contain their dogs to the tract of land they have permission to hunt and not allow them to wander off it or risk a citation.

Some preventative measures that can help include: use tracking collars, deer-dog hunt only on very large tracts of land, make sure there are adequate cut-off roads enabling you to keep in front of the dogs and don’t turn out more dogs than your party can catch up. Possessing firearms or bows while training deer dogs during the deer-dog training season is prohibited.

Hunters using dogs to take deer on private lands must register that property before doing so. The no-cost, statewide, deer-dog registration is required during all open deer-hunting seasons, when taking deer with dogs is permitted, and during deer-dog training season. However, this doesn’t apply to hunters training or hunting on public lands and WMAs.

This mandatory registration may be issued to hunting clubs, landowners or anyone having permission to hunt deer with dogs on a particular tract of land if they fill out the required application.

Application forms are available from all regional FWC offices and at MyFWC.com/Hunting. The completed application, along with proof of landowner permission or a copy of the written hunting-lease agreement and a general map of the property showing boundaries and a legal description should be mailed to: FWC, 2590 Executive Center Circle, Suite 200, Tallahassee, FL 32301.

Once you’ve registered with the FWC, you’ll be issued a unique registration number that must be attached to the collars of all dogs used to pursue deer on registered properties during the training season and any hunting season when taking deer with dogs is permitted.

Hunters must possess copies of their registration while they’re training or hunting with their dogs. For additional information or to follow up on the registration process, call 850-488-3641. LICENSES: Whether you participate in one or more of these hunting opportunities, you’ll need a Florida hunting license. If you’re a resident, this’ll cost you $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months.

PERMITS: If you plan to hunt during crossbow season, you’ll need to buy a $5 crossbow permit. To hunt during muzzleloader season, you’ll need a $5 muzzleloading gun permit. If you hunt or train deer dogs on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you must purchase a WMA permit for $26.50. Also, a no-cost migratory bird permit is required if you plan on hunting doves or any other migratory game birds.

WMAs: Don’t forget to obtain a brochure on the specific WMA you wish to hunt from the local tax collector’s office, as dates, bag limits and restrictions differ greatly on each area. All of the licenses and permits you’ll need are available at county tax collectors’ offices, any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or clicking www.wildlifelicense.com/fl.