Whitetail Deer Hunting in Florida
Florida is a state with a rich hunting tradition and a diverse wildlife. Among the many game species that can be hunted in Florida, whitetail deer are the most popular and sought-after. Florida deer hunting is a challenging and rewarding activity that requires skill, patience and knowledge of the local terrain and regulations. In this article, we will provide some information and tips on how to plan and enjoy a successful whitetail deer hunt in Florida.
Know the Zones and Seasons
Florida has four zones (A, B, C and D) with different dates and weapon types for hunting deer. The zones are based on the geographic location and the rutting periods of the deer. The rut is the breeding season of the deer, when they are more active and visible. Knowing the zone and the season of your hunting area is important to avoid violating the law and to increase your chances of seeing deer.
The hunting seasons for each zone are as follows:
- Zone A: Archery season runs from late July to late August; crossbow season runs from late August to early September; muzzleloader season runs from mid-September to early October; general gun season runs from early October to mid-January; antlerless deer season runs from mid-October to mid-November.
- Zone B: Archery season runs from mid-October to mid-November; crossbow season runs from mid-November to early December; muzzleloader season runs from mid-December to early January; general gun season runs from mid-January to late February; antlerless deer season runs from late January to early February.
- Zone C: Archery season runs from mid-September to mid-October; crossbow season runs from mid-October to early November; muzzleloader season runs from late November to early December; general gun season runs from early December to late January; antlerless deer season runs from late December to early January.
- Zone D: Archery season runs from mid-October to mid-November; crossbow season runs from mid-November to early December; muzzleloader season runs from early December to mid-December; general gun season runs from mid-December to late February; antlerless deer season runs from late December to early January.
Get a License and a Permit
To hunt whitetail deer in Florida, you need a valid hunting license and a deer permit, unless you are exempt. Exemptions apply to some residents such as children under 16, seniors over 65, disabled veterans, active-duty military personnel and landowners hunting on their own property. You can purchase a license and a permit online, by phone or at authorized agents such as sporting goods stores or tax collectors’ offices.
The license fees vary depending on your residency status, age and duration. The annual resident hunting license costs $17, while the nonresident hunting license costs $46.50 for 10 days or $151.50 for 12 months. The deer permit costs $5 for residents and nonresidents.
You can also apply for a limited entry/quota hunt permit, which allows you to hunt on specific wildlife management areas (WMAs) that have limited access and high-quality hunting opportunities. The application periods begin in early spring and you can apply online or by phone. The quota hunt permits are free, but you need a valid hunting license and a deer permit to apply.
Choose a Hunting Location
Florida offers a variety of hunting locations, ranging from public lands to private ranches. Depending on your preference, budget and availability, you can choose where to hunt whitetail deer in Florida.
Public lands include WMAs, national forests, state forests, wildlife refuges and other public properties that are open for hunting. You can use the WMA Finder tool on the FWC website to locate WMAs based on species, season, location and more. You can also find maps, regulations, brochures and harvest reports for each WMA. Some WMAs require a quota hunt permit, while others are open for hunting without a quota.
Private lands include ranches, farms, preserves and other privately owned properties that offer hunting opportunities for a fee. You can find a directory of outfitters and guides on the FWC website or search online for private hunting locations in Florida. Some private lands offer quality management, food plots, trophies, lodging, meals and guide service.
Prepare Your Gear and Strategy
Once you have chosen your hunting location, you need to prepare your gear and strategy for hunting whitetail deer in Florida. Depending on the season and the zone, you can use different types of weapons, such as bows, crossbows, muzzleloaders or firearms. You should check the regulations for each zone and season on the FWC website and make sure your weapon is legal and safe.
You should also bring other essential gear, such as:
- Blaze orange clothing or vest to be visible to other hunters
- Hunting license and deer permit
- Quota hunt permit if required
- Map and compass or GPS device
- Binoculars and rangefinder
- Scent control products and camouflage
- Deer calls and rattling antlers
- Tree stand or ground blind
- Knife and field dressing kit
- Cooler and ice
- First aid kit and emergency supplies
You should also plan your strategy for hunting whitetail deer in Florida. You should scout your hunting area before the season and look for signs of deer activity, such as tracks, droppings, rubs, scrapes and bedding areas. You should also identify potential stand or blind locations that offer good visibility, cover and wind direction. You should avoid disturbing the deer or leaving human scent in the area.
You should also study the behavior and habits of whitetail deer in Florida. Florida deer are not known for their size, but some hunters seek the Seminole subspecies of whitetail deer that rut in late summer and fall. The rut is the best time to hunt deer, as they are more active and responsive to calls and rattling. You should also pay attention to the weather, moon phases, food sources and hunting pressure, as they can affect the deer movement patterns.
Enjoy Your Hunt and Respect the Rules
The last step is to enjoy your hunt and respect the rules for hunting whitetail deer in Florida. You should follow the ethical and legal guidelines for hunting, such as:
- Only shoot at a clear and safe target
- Only harvest mature bucks with a minimum of 3 points on one side
- Only harvest one antlered deer per day
- Only harvest antlerless deer during antlerless deer season or with an antlerless deer permit
- Report your harvested deer within 24 hours using the FWC app or website
- Tag your harvested deer with your name, date and license number
- Do not waste or spoil any edible parts of the deer
- Do not trespass on private property without permission
- Do not hunt under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Do not use bait, dogs or artificial lights to hunt deer
You should also respect the wildlife and the environment by:
- Avoiding shooting at endangered or protected species, such as Florida panthers or bald eagles
- Avoiding shooting at fawns, does with fawns or pregnant does
- Avoiding shooting at sick or injured deer or deer dead of unknown causes
- Reporting any sightings of sick or abnormally thin deer or deer with chronic wasting disease (CWD) symptoms to the FWC hotline: (866) CWD-WATCH (293-9282)
- Following the carcass importation rules to prevent CWD from spreading into Florida
- Disposing of any carcass parts properly and away from water sources
- Leaving no trace of your presence in the hunting area
Hunting whitetail deer in Florida can be a fun and rewarding experience if you follow these steps and tips. You can enjoy the natural beauty of Florida, challenge yourself with a difficult quarry, and take home a trophy or a delicious meal. You can also contribute to the conservation and management of Florida’s wildlife resources by hunting responsibly and legally. Happy hunting!