St. Vincent Island whitetail hunts

“St. Vincent Island is a wonderful place to take kids and other folks to show them what the real old Florida looked like,” Woody Eubanks, 38-year Bay County veteran fireman, said about the 12,490-acre national wildlife refuge.

Eubanks should know. For the past 27 years, he’s taken part in one of two white-tailed deer hunts offered on the undeveloped barrier island in northwest Florida’s Franklin County.

The first deer hunt is Nov. 16-18 and is an archery hunt. Only vertical bows may be used, unless a hunter has a Disabled Crossbow Permit, in which case a crossbow may be used as well.

During the second white-tailed hunt, hunters may use bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders. That hunt is Jan. 25-27, 2018. There are 250 permits available for each of the two hunts at a cost of $27.50 each.

Eubanks, a lifelong Panama City resident, said he’s done both hunts and has taken a deer every year.

“A big group of us firemen started off doing these hunts together, and over the years, a lot of ’em have dropped off for various reasons, except for my buddy Randy Rowell – he’s been hunting here with me for all 27 years,” Eubanks said. “And I first brought my son out here when he was just 8 years old. He loved it even then, and we’ve made it an annual father-son pilgrimage for 19 years now and don’t plan to stop.”

If you’d like to also experience the thrills and solitude of primitive hunting on St. Vincent Island, all you have to do is buy a permit in July.

Accessing the island

You can only get to St. Vincent Island 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.

“We used to take a shuttle boat to and from the island, but I’ve been trailering my own boat over from Panama City the past several years,” Eubanks said.

Did I mention it’s primitive?

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. Eubanks says he meets a lot of good people every year and enjoys sharing his camp cooking with them.

“I recommend bringing a bicycle to get to and from your hunting spot. Over the years, I’ve found that a three-speed beach comber type bike works best out there,” Eubanks said.

If you harvest any game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff will pick you and your animal up in one of their trucks. In addition, transportation to and from hunting spots and accommodations are available to hunters with disabilities.

Good game management

“The USFWS staff does an outstanding job, going out of their way to assist us hunters,” Eubanks said. “They’ve also done a great job managing the wildlife. Historically, there have been hundreds of hogs on the island, but due to current management activities, the population is estimated in the dozens.”

How to get a permit

If you’d like to purchase a permit for one or both of these primitive hunts, get the appropriateworksheet by going to MyFWC.com/License and clicking on “Limited Entry/Quota Hunts.” Once you’ve completed it, you may buy the permit at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or from any county tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, beginning 10 a.m. EDT onJuly 14. But you had better be quick, ’cause these permits are being offered first-come, first-served until they’re gone.

“I really like the fact that it’s a primitive hunt, and the good Lord willin’, I don’t plan to miss it,” Eubanks said. “If you’re looking for a great hunt in a truly beautiful remote place and don’t mind roughing it a bit, you will really enjoy St. Vincent Island. My only advice is to make sure you’re prepared for inclement weather, ’cause you never know what Mother Nature’s gonna throw at ya.”