Why Not Try Bow Hunting?
By: Tony Young
Bow hunting continues to grow in popularity with one-third of hunters reporting they hunt with a bow. When polled, the primary reason hunters said they picked up a bow was for the challenge. Other reasons given were having a lengthened hunting season, the woods being less crowded during bow seasons and getting an earlier start on the season. Some bow hunters even go so far as to think of it as a form of art.
During the archery season dates, you also are allowed to take antlerless deer, which greatly increases your chances of putting meat in the freezer. But whatever it is that draws you to pick up a bow, bow hunting takes practice, the ability to judge distance and stealth when it comes to your movement and covering your scent. This is important because you have to be so much closer to an animal to take a shot when bow hunting.
And along with hunting the rut, early bow seasons provide a great opportunity to take a mature whitetail and arguably are among the best times to do so. In northwest Florida, it’s even better because bucks are still hangin’ out in their bachelor groups. Historically, the rut is in full swing during September north and west of Lake Okeechobee, and in the counties of Dixie, Levy and Duval, so you’ve really got an advantage when hunting there.
If you’re stealthy enough and have done your preseason homework, you’ve got a good chance of having a nice one come within shooting range of your bowhunting setup. Early in the season, before deer are subjected to significant hunting pressure, they are more active during daylight hours. Once gun season hits, though, you might not see that big ’un again for the rest of the year, except for maybe a trail cam pic taken in the middle of the night.
Season dates by zone
Hunting season always starts first in Zone A in south Florida.
The boundary line between zones A and C begins at the Gulf of Mexico and runs northeast through Charlotte Harbor and up the Peace River until it intersects with State Road 70. The line then follows S.R. 70, running east until it meets U.S. 441 north of Lake Okeechobee. It then follows U.S. 441 south, where it proceeds around the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The line then turns off U.S. 441 and onto S.R. 80 and runs just a few miles before turning east and following County Road 880, running just a few miles before joining back up with U.S. 98/441/S.R. 80/Southern Boulevard until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Archery and crossbow seasons south of that line started July 30 in Zone A.
This year, archery and crossbow seasons in Zone B start Oct. 15. Zone B’s northern boundary line is S.R. 50, the eastern border is U.S. 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, the southern boundary is S.R. 60 and the western boundary is Interstate 75.
The line that divides zones C and D begins at U.S. 27 at the Florida-Georgia state line (in Gadsden County) and runs south on U.S. 27 until it meets S.R. 61 in Tallahassee. From there, it follows S.R. 61, running south until it hits U.S. 319. There, the line follows U.S. 319, continuing south to U.S. 98; it then runs east along U.S. 98 until it gets to the Wakulla River, where the river becomes the line, heading south until it meets the St. Marks River and continues going downriver until it meets the Gulf.
If you hunt west of that line, you’re in Zone D, where archery and crossbow seasons begin on Oct. 22 this year. In Zone C (east of that line), archery and crossbow seasons open Sept. 17.
License and permit requirements
Before you go you need to make sure your license and required permits are up to date. To hunt during archery season, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and an archery permit. During crossbow season, you’ll need a hunting license and crossbow permit. If you’re a Florida resident, an annual hunting license costs $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months. Archery and crossbow permits are $5 each, and all deer hunters must have the $5 deer permit.
Anyone planning on hunting in one of Florida’s many WMAs must purchase a management area permit for $26.50. And don’t forget to pick up the WMA rules and regulations brochure for the area you wish to hunt. You can get brochures at the closest tax collector’s office, or you can print them from MyFWC.com/Hunting under “WMA Brochures.”
However, those who have one of the following licenses don’t need to purchase either permit, because the permits are already included: lifetime sportsman’s, lifetime hunting, sportman’s 64 or older, gold sportsman’s, military gold sportsman’s or sportsman’s.
You can obtain all the licenses and permits you’ll need at a county tax collector’s office, any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
But if you’re 15 years old or younger, 65 or older or have a resident disabled-person hunting and fishing certificate, you’re exempt from needing any of these licenses and permits.
Legal to take
During archery season and that part of crossbow season that runs concurrent with archery, you can take legal-to-take bucks (as defined by the regulations within the deer management unit you’re hunting in) and antlerless deer, which are does and bucks with less than 5-inch antlers. You may never take spotted fawns. After archery ends, during the remaining portion of the crossbow season, you may only take legal-to-take bucks according to the specific DMU antler rules. The daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits for deer on WMAs can differ, so check the specifics of the area before you hunt.
You can hunt wild hogs on private lands 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. But on a few WMAs, bag and size limits do apply so, to be certain, check the brochure for the specific area.
In addition to hunting big game, it’s also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during archery and crossbow seasons, assuming you have a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents) or are exempt from the permit requirement. You can take two turkeys in a single day on private lands, but the two-bird combined fall-season limit still applies. The daily bag is still one on WMAs, however, on many of them you may take hen turkeys during the archery season. It’s against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County in the fall, and it’s illegal to shoot them while they’re on the roost, over bait, when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when bait is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls.
If you’re quite the marksman, gray squirrel and quail are two other game species legal to take during archery and crossbow seasons. There’s a daily bag limit of 12 for each, although I doubt that’ll come into play for most of us.
Additional regulations you need to know
If you’re hunting during the archery season, you may hunt only with a bow and you must have the archery permit. During crossbow season, you may use either a crossbow or bow, but you must have the crossbow permit. On WMAs, only hunters with a disabled crossbow permit are allowed to use crossbows during archery season. All bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases are permitted. For hunting deer, hogs and turkeys, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
As far as legal shooting hours go, you’re allowed to let your arrow or bolt fly between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. Except for turkeys, you’re permitted to take resident game over feeding stations on private property. It’s against the law to use bait on WMAs.
You can’t use dogs to hunt deer or turkeys, but you can use bird dogs if you’re quail hunting. However, you are allowed to use a dog on a leash to help you trail any wounded game.
Here’s hoping your preparation and persistence pay off and wishing you a great hunting season. And follow our HuntFlorida social media pages at Facebook.com/HGM.FWC and YouTube.com/HuntFloridaTV to keep informed of hunting opportunities and regulation changes. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we’ll see you in the woods!