Outta' the Woods
Friday, March 02, 2018
Media contact: Tony Young, 850-488-7867
By Tony Young
Holmes County hunters in northwest Florida will enjoy their first full-length spring turkey season after 20 years – a result of a successful wild turkey restoration project and partnership between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), National Wild Turkey Federation and local landowners.
“In the mid-1990s, residents and landowners of Holmes County brought it to our attention that their county’s wild turkey population had virtually disappeared,” said Roger Shields, FWC’s wild turkey program coordinator. “Our biologists and law enforcement then set up bait stations throughout the county and monitored them. Those reports were confirmed, and turkey hunting was closed in Holmes County in 1998.”
A turkey trapping and restocking program was initiated during back-to-back winters of 1998-99 and 1999-2000. A total of 121 wild turkeys (43 gobblers and 78 hens) were released at eight different locations within Holmes County during those two years. Local landowners spent their own money on habitat improvements, such as prescribed burns, timber thinning and planting food plots, which helped speed up the restoration process. Additionally, the NWTF formed a local chapter and assisted in turkey trapping efforts.
The restoration goal of re-establishing a huntable population of wild turkeys was attained in 2006 when turkey hunting was reopened in Holmes County with a limited three-day spring season and a one-bird bag limit. Over the past decade, the spring turkey season in Holmes County has been extended incrementally, and based on harvest data, hunting success in Holmes County is now as good or better than that in surrounding counties. So beginning this spring, the season will be a full 37 days as it is statewide.
Youth hunters can take part in the two-day youth spring turkey hunt, which occurs on private lands and on 81 WMAs the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season. South of State Road 70, that youth weekend was Feb. 24-25. Above S.R. 70 in the rest of the state, that weekend falls on March 10-11. Only those 15 years old and younger are allowed to harvest a turkey while supervised by an adult, 18 years or older.
These 26 WMAs do not require a youth spring turkey quota permit: Apalachicola, Aucilla, Big Bend – Snipe Island Unit, Big Bend – Spring Creek Unit, Big Bend – Tide Swamp Unit, Blackwater, Choctawhatchee River (only the south portion of the area), Escambia River, Herky Huffman/Bull Creek, J.W. Corbett, Joe Budd, Jumper Creek, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Kissimmee River, Lake Monroe, Lochloosa, Log Landing, Lower Econfina River, Middle Aucilla, Osceola, Richloam, Steinhatchee Springs, St. Marks NWR (Newport Hunt Area only), Three Lakes, Upper St. Johns River Marsh and Yellow River.
Spring turkey season south of S.R. 70 always begins the first Saturday in March. This year it is March 3, running through April 8. In the rest of the state, it always opens the third Saturday of March, with this year being March 17 through April 22.
These 43 WMAs don’t require a quota to hunt some or all of the spring turkey season:
Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit is two on private lands. On WMAs, you may only take one bird a day. The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where it is one.
On private property, any legal rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol can be used to take turkeys. However, the allowed methods of take during spring turkey season are more restrictive on WMAs. Rifles and pistols are generally not allowed, and shotguns must use shot no larger than #2. Check the WMA brochure on the area you wish to hunt to be sure.
Shooting hours on private lands and some WMAs are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but on most WMAs, you must quit hunting by 1 p.m.
You may use decoys, but you’re not permitted to hunt turkeys with dogs, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot them while they’re on the roost, over bait or when you’re within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when feed is present.
Besides a hunting license, you’ll need to buy a turkey permit. For Florida residents, the turkey permit costs $10. For all the out-of-staters who may be seeking an Osceola to complete their “Grand Slam” or who want to begin their season in the Sunshine State, the permit costs $125. And if you plan to hunt on a WMA, you also must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.
These licenses and permits can be purchased in Florida at county tax collectors’ offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting/fishing supplies, and with a credit card by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356) or at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
During Youth Turkey Hunt Weekend, no license or permit is required of the supervising adult, unless the adult plans to help “call-in” a bird or otherwise participate in the hunt. In that case, the adult will need a hunting license and turkey permit, and if on a WMA, they will also need a management area permit.
Here’s wishing all of you a safe, successful spring turkey season!
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