t seems the deer in my neck of the woods have been a lot more nocturnal than usual, and my hunting season has been pitiful thus far. As I type this, I have harvested only one deer. Now I did shoot a nice fall gobbler sporting an 11-inch beard on my 2/3-acre Sopchoppy River lot, but that hardly counted, since I was really tryin’ to get a doe during Zone D’s antlerless deer season.
Anyway, I’m not throwin’ in the towel just yet, but it has been very frustrating, and that’s no lie. But, there’s still lots of deer-hunting days west of where I live in Tallahassee, and I’m thankful I’ve got some good friends who have offered to take me on some of their leases.
So, if you’re like me and still have plenty of room left in your freezer, or if you live in the central or southern part of the state and don’t mind hunting with a primitive weapon, then point your pickup northwest, because Zone D’s deer season’s still goin’ strong on private lands and on a lot of the wildlife management areas (WMAs).
The second phase, if you will, of muzzleloading gun season runs from Feb. 20-26 in this part of the Panhandle. This unique late season, which occurs only in Zone D, was established to allow hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which runs from mid-January through February in this part of the state.
A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season, where, on private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow.
On WMAs, this post-season is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but not crossbows – unless they possess a disabled crossbow permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 archery permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the muzzleloading gun permit.
The most common kinds of game to hunt during this season are deer and wild hogs. Only bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and one antler must be at least 5 inches in length. If you’re hunting deer, make sure you have the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Bag limits and antler size for deer on WMAs can differ, so please consult the area brochure before you hunt.
Wild hogs aren’t considered game animals on private lands, and because of this, they can be taken year-round by most weapons with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so check the area’s brochure to make sure.
No dogs may be used in the pursuit of deer during this season. However, leashed dogs can be used to track a wounded deer if necessary. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.
Bows and crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.
During this season, you may use only muzzleloaders that take black powder or a non-nitro-cellulose substitute and are fired by wheel lock, flintlock or percussion cap ignition (including 209 primers). You may not use muzzleloaders that require smokeless powder or those with self-contained cartridge ammunition capabilities. For hunting deer, muzzleloaders that fire single bullets must be at least .40-caliber, and those firing two or more balls must be 20-gauge or larger.
And you’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it’s illegal to do that on WMAs.
Eleven of the WMAs in Zone D have the late archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of ’em, you must have the $26 management area permit as well. Nine of those areas don’t require a quota permit during this period: Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Blackwater, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River WMAs. The only ones that do are Chipola River and Perdido River WMAs.
You can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any tax collector’s office and retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com. 
So if you’re like me and not quite ready to give up on deer hunting, have no fear, ’cause February’s here! Grab your favorite primitive gun and head over to Zone D where the rut’s goin’ on hot and heavy.