Guest Commentary: Deer management units, increased antler regulations go statewide
By Tony Young
Florida Fish and Wildlife
In February, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved proposals designed to improve Florida white-tailed deer management at a local level by establishing deer management units (DMUs) throughout the state, each with its own set of antler regulations and antlerless deer harvest days.
These new changes go into effect this hunting season, which opens Aug. 1 in South Florida’s Hunting Zone A.
The purpose of the changes is to manage deer on a more local scale so efforts are tailored to habitat quality, characteristics of the local deer herd and preferences of local hunters and other stakeholders.
Two DMUs were created two years ago and went into effect this past hunting season in Northwest Florida’s Zone D. The new changes created in February add an additional 10 DMUs in the rest of the state, in hunting zones A, B and C.
Six of these DMUs make up Zone C in northeast and much of central Florida. In five of the six units in Zone C (DMUs C1, C2, C4, C5 and C6), antlered deer must now have at least three antler points (each point at least an inch long) on one side OR have a main antler beam length of at least 10 inches to be legal to take.
In DMU C3 within the Big Bend region, antlered deer must now have at least two antler points (each point at least an inch long) on one side to be legal to take.
Zone B, which makes up much of the Green Swamp Basin, has been established as a single unit (DMU B1) with minimum antler requirements of three points on one side OR a main antler beam of at least 10 inches for antlered deer.
Also, the western boundary of Zone B has been shifted east from the Gulf of Mexico to Interstate 75. Beginning this hunting season, all lands that were previously located in Zone B west of I-75 are now part of Zone C within DMU C1 and, as a result, have earlier fall hunting-season dates.
This change was initiated by local hunters and landowners who wanted earlier season dates to better coincide with the rut.
Zone A in south Florida has been broken into three DMUs with the two southern-most units (DMUs A1 and A2) having antler regulations of at least two points on one side for an antlered deer to be legal to harvest.
In the remaining unit (DMU A3), antlered deer now must have at least three points on one side OR a main antler beam of at least 10 inches to be legal to harvest.
While science is the foundation of the FWC’s wildlife management efforts, hunter feedback also plays an important role. Hunters responding to recent surveys said they favored higher deer numbers overall, more bucks and a better chance to see and harvest upper age-class bucks.
These new antler regulations will protect most 1.5-year-old bucks, while allowing hunters to harvest bucks that are 2.5 years old and older. The new antler regulations apply to all lands – private property, public land and wildlife management areas.
In the three-point-on-a-side units, hunters 16 and older may not take during any season or by any method an antlered deer that does not have an antler with at least three points or a main beam length of at least 10 inches.
In the two-point-on-a-side units, no hunter 16 and older may take an antlered deer that does not have an antler with at least two points.
However, to encourage youth participation in hunting, a special exemption was included. Youth (15 years old and younger) hunters in all DMUs are exempt from these greater antler regulations and may continue to harvest antlered deer with at least a 5-inch antler.
Among these changes, antlerless deer seasons during general gun season on private lands have been modified for each DMU based on hunter-supported deer population goals.
The new antlerless deer days reflect input from farmers, landowners and hunters, and, just like before, are only on private property and do not apply to wildlife management areas.
Additionally, in Zone A’s DMUs, the days during the archery season in which you can take antlerless deer have been reduced in number. This year in Zone A, archery season runs Aug. 1-30, but you may only take deer of either sex Aug. 1-16 in DMU A3 and Aug. 1-9 in DMU A2. No antlerless deer at all can be taken in DMU A1.
It is important for hunters 16 years old and older to understand these new efforts to protect 1.5-year-old bucks create a “slot limit” type situation during archery season, antlerless deer days (on private property) and when using an antlerless deer permit. What I mean is, during archery, on an antlerless deer day or with a doe tag, those 16 and older may only harvest a legal-to-take buck or an antlerless deer.
An antlerless deer by definition is a doe or a buck with less than 5-inch antlers.
So if you’re hunting in either of the four DMUs that have a two-point-on-a-side rule, you cannot shoot a 5-inch or longer spike, no matter how long his antlers are.
Until one of his antlers sprouts at least a 1-inch point off it, that spike is protected from hunters 16 and older.
And if you’re in one of the three-points-on-a-side DMUs, you can’t shoot your standard 4-point, unless it has a main beam that is at least 10 inches long.
But, you are allowed to shoot a long-horned spike if it has an antler that’s at least 10 inches long in those three-points-on-a-side units because of the 10-inch main beam rule that those DMUs also have.
The 10-inch main beam option protects most 1.5-year-old bucks from harvest, while allowing most 2.5-year-olds and older to be taken.
The FWC will monitor the results of this new approach by annual harvest surveys, which measure deer harvest and hunter participation in each DMU. This information will help the FWC determine if the new regulations are meeting the deer management goals that were established for each DMU.
These surveys, which will be conducted after the new rules have had an opportunity to make an impact, will also help gauge hunters’ perspectives and satisfaction levels.
For more details on these new rule changes and to learn more about deer management units, check out the “Florida 2015-2016 Hunting Regulations” handbook by going to MyFWC.com/Hunting/Regulations.