LARGO — Hunters pursuing white-tailed deer in the Green Swamp were disappointed. It seems just as their prey became most active, at the start of the rut, the state shut down the hunting season.
"Down in your neck of the woods, the deer start breeding in mid January," said Tony Young, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They start moving around, looking for love, and that's why it is a good time to hunt."
The start of the rut is triggered by the change in the amount of available daylight, but in Florida that can vary from region to region.
"Florida has the widest range of deer breeding of anywhere in the country," Young said. "It can start as early as July in the southern part of the state and go all the way into February."
Some believe the introduction of regional varieties of Odocoileus virginianus from northern states into Florida may be one reason why the white-tail rut varies. But one thing for sure is that the mid January end to general gun season was not serving the Tampa Bay region's hunters.
So in 2010, state officials subdivided one of Florida's three hunting zones. The new area, dubbed "Zone B," covers much of Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, as well as most of the Green Swamp.
Hunters got to hunt halfway through February last year. This year, general gun season lasts to Feb. 19. (Hunters in Zone C, which includes parts of Hernando but all of Citrus County, had to stop hunting Sunday).
"The response has just been overwhelming," Young said. "I think this is good example of wildlife managers listening to their stakeholders."
In 2011, the FWC established a special Youth Turkey Hunt weekend on private lands. The hunt proved so popular, state officials plan to do it again March 10-11 in our hunting zone and areas to the north.
The Youth Spring Turkey Hunt takes place the weekend before the regular turkey season, which runs March 17 through April 22 in zones B, C and D except for Holmes County. (Zone A, the area south of Tampa Bay, typically has earlier hunting seasons.)
Hunters 16 years old and younger are eligible to bag a turkey as long as they are supervised by an adult 18 years or older. No license or permit is required (except if they are hunting on one of the 49 designated Wildlife Management Areas.)
But some restrictions do apply. If the child's adult companion "calls" the bird or helps with the hunt, then they will need a license, turkey permit and WMA permit if required.
Looking for a local WMA where your young hunter can get a turkey? Try the Citrus WMA in Citrus County or the Chassahowitzka WMA in Hernando County.
Florida law requires anyone born after June 1, 1975, or 16 years or older to pass a FWC hunter safety course before they can purchase a hunting license. The law allows a youth to hunt with a licensed adult for up to a year on a trial basis but sooner or later they must take and pass the class.
The course, which is designed for 12-year-olds and older, takes two days to complete. The Wyoming Antelope Club (3700 126th Ave. N, Pinellas Park) regularly offers hunter education, as well as other shooting sport instruction. Go to antelopeclub.org for more information.
Another option is to enroll your child in the FWC's Pathfinders Camp this summer. The weeklong program, run out of the FWC's Ocala Outdoor Adventure Camp, offers hunter safety training for children 9 to 14. Campers learn about game, hunting and other basic outdoor skills.