At their February meeting, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Commissioners passed new deer hunting rules that take effect starting with the opening of archery and crossbow seasons in Zone A on Aug. 3, 2019.
Annual statewide bag limit – five deer, of which only two may be antlerless
One of the rules establishes a new annual statewide bag limit of five deer per hunter, of which no more than two may be antlerless (any deer, except a spotted fawn, without antlers or whose antlers are less than 5 inches in length). However, antlerless deer may still only be harvested during seasons when they are legal to take, such as during archery season and on antlerless deer days.
“The annual statewide bag limit was developed through extensive collaboration with FWC staff and stakeholders, and aligns with the goals and objectives outlined in the Commission-approvedstrategic plan for deer management,” said Cory Morea, deer management program coordinator.
Florida was the only state in the Southeast without a specified annual bag limit for deer.
“This adaptive approach to deer management is intended to improve hunting opportunities by encouraging harvest among more hunters as well as greater selectivity, while helping maintain a healthy and reasonably balanced deer herd,” Morea said.
Deer harvested under permits issued to landowners of the following programs are excluded from annual statewide bag, daily bag and possession limits - antlerless deer permit program, deer depredation program and private lands deer management program. Deer harvested on licensedgame farms and licensed hunting preserves are also excluded from annual statewide bag, daily bag and possession limits.
Harvest reporting system
New rules require all hunters including youth under 16 years of age, resident hunters 65 years and older, those with a disability license, military personnel, and those hunting on their homestead in their county of residence to report deer they harvest. However, deer taken with a deer depredation permit or from a game farm or licensed hunting preserve do not have to be logged and reported through the harvest report system.
“Before moving a deer from the point of harvest, hunters who harvest deer are required to record in their harvest log information such as their name, date of harvest, sex of the deer, and county or wildlife management area where harvested,” Morea said.
Before the start of the deer season, hunters can access harvest logs online at MyFWC.com. Hunters should keep their harvest log nearby when hunting deer.
Furthermore, this and possibly some additional information must be reported to the FWC’s harvest reporting system within 24 hours of harvest and prior to final processing of the deer, any parts of the deer being transferred to any meat processor or taxidermist, and the deer leaving the state.
“A harvest reporting system will foster bag limit compliance and give the FWC another source of deer harvest data,” Morea said.
Changes to private lands antlerless deer permit program
All antlerless deer taken on lands enrolled in the antlerless deer permit program must be tagged with an issued antlerless deer tag, even if they are harvested on a day when the take of antlerless deer is otherwise allowed (such as archery season) within the zone in which the enrolled lands are located. In addition, the deer must be recorded on the harvest log of and reported to the FWC’s harvest reporting system by the hunter who harvested the deer.
After the season ends, permittees must report the total number of antlerless deer taken on his or her enrolled properties by April 1.
“The antlerless deer permit program is intended to provide flexibility in managing deer populations. Tag issuance rates will be set by deer management unit and are designed to allow sustainable harvests while minimizing overharvest of antlerless deer, particularly females, on permitted lands,” Morea said. “Additionally, harvest information provided by antlerless deer permittees will help improve the FWC’s science-based deer management decisions.”
Because of this new tagging requirement for properties enrolled in the antlerless deer permit program, the application period for these permits and associated tags is earlier. May 15 is the earliest you may apply for all hunting zones, but deadlines vary by zone – July 14 for Zone A, Aug. 11 for Zone C and Sept. 29 for zones B and D.
Youth deer hunt weekend
Beginning with the 2019-2020 hunting season, youth 15 years old and younger who are supervised by an adult (18 years or older) may participate in a new youth deer hunt weekend. This new Saturday-Sunday youth deer hunt coincides with the muzzleloading gun season in all four hunting zones and is not available on wildlife management areas.
Youth may harvest one antlered or antlerless deer (except spotted fawn) and the deer counts toward their annual bag limit. Youth are allowed to use any method of take legal for deer and may even use dogs to pursue deer on deer-dog registered properties.
“Wildlife management areas have had youth and family deer hunts for years, so this newly established season is a way to encourage youth deer hunting on other lands,” Morea said. “This new opportunity supports the FWC’s commitment to igniting interest in hunting and creating the next generation of conservation stewards.”
The dates for next season’s youth deer hunt weekend are Sept. 14-15 in Zone A, Oct. 26-27 in Zone C, Nov. 30 – Dec. 1 in Zone B, and Dec. 7-8 in Zone D.
“Having this opportunity early in the season is expected to provide youth a better hunting experience when more deer are available and hunting pressure is relatively low,” Morea said.
No license or permit is required of youth hunters (15 years old and younger) or accompanying adults (18 years or older) who only supervise. Since the youth hunt coincides with muzzleloading gun seasons, supervising adults and other non-youth also may hunt but must use either a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow, and possess a hunting license, deer permit and muzzleloading gun permit, unless exempt.
If youth use dogs to pursue deer (only allowed on deer-dog registered properties), any person (16 years of age or older) participating in the hunt may not shoot or shoot at deer.
Change to youth antler point exemption
Youth 15 years old and younger may harvest only one antlered deer (any deer having one or more antlers at least 5 inches in length) annually that does not meet antler point regulations for the DMU being hunted, and it counts toward the youth’s annual bag limit.
“Deer hunting stakeholders believe limiting youth to one antlered deer annually that doesn’t meet DMU antler point regulations will allow more youth to see and harvest antlered deer, while developing a better understanding of DMU antler regulations,” Morea said.
A comprehensive listing of frequently asked questions on these new deer rules and other statewide hunting rule changes can be found at MyFWC.com/Hunting.