Thanks to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its many partners and cooperators, the future of hunting in Florida looks bright. The FWC continues to support and promote the hunting tradition by helping open up new public lands for hunting, expanding hunting opportunities on public and private lands, and introducing new folks to the hunting heritage.
The Sunshine State is blessed with one of the nation’s largest wildlife management area (WMA) systems, encompassing more than 5.8 million acres of public hunting land. The FWC manages 1.1 million of these acres, and the FWC’s partners for public hunting contribute the remaining acreage. Because of these agency partnerships and the shared interest in continuing to grow Florida’s wildlife management area system, 32 new public hunting areas have been added since 2005, totaling more than 141,000 acres.
The FWC listened when hunting stakeholders asked that the state’s deer population managed at a more local level. To increase hunter satisfaction, it adjusted season dates, moved a zone boundary line and added a new zone. The new zones and dates, which take effect with the 2010-11 season, correspond better with times of peak deer activity throughout the state.
In 2006, the FWC created a crossbow season on private lands to give crossbow hunters more opportunities. This new season not only allowed crossbow hunters in the woods earlier, it gave vertical-bow hunters more hunting days by allowing the use of bows during the crossbow season and the use of both crossbows and bows during the muzzleloading gun season on private property.
These changes give hunters more opportunities and help recruit and retain more folks in the sport, because some youth and older hunters have more difficulty using a compound bow than they do a crossbow. This concept was popular enough that the Commission recently passed rules to expand the crossbow season on private land. Starting with the 2011-12 hunting season, crossbow hunters will be able to get in the woods a month earlier on private lands and join the archery hunters in pursuing deer of either sex.
In 2005, the FWC launched its Youth Hunting Program of Florida to provide quality hunting experiences for 12- to 17-year-olds and increase the number of youths involved in hunting. The statewide program averages nearly 60 hunts and introduces about 600 youths and parents to the sport each year, giving many of them their first taste of hunting in a positive, safe, educational and mentored setting.
Today’s youth spend half as much time outdoors as kids a decade ago did, so in 2009, the FWC launched the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network to help reverse this trend. Currently, there are five facilities in the network designed to strengthen the connections between youth and wildlife conservation through activities like hunting, archery, fishing, kayaking and wildlife viewing.
New this spring on private land was the first-ever youth spring turkey hunt weekend – another opportunity the FWC established to help attract young hunters and encourage adults to take kids hunting. The two-day hunt occurs the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season in each hunting zone. Only those under 16 are allowed to harvest a turkey, and they have to be supervised by an adult, 18 years or older. And beginning next spring, 78 WMAs will include the youth turkey season with their hunting opportunities.
I am extremely proud of this agency and what it has done for the hunting community. The FWC continues to form new partnerships and foster existing ones with the intent of opening up more public hunting lands, further expanding hunting opportunities and introducing new folks to our hunting heritage.