Targeting Hunting in the Northwest Region with Capt. Jeff Hagaman

Hunting for my region is broken up into two zones: Zone B which runs south of State Road 50, north of State Road 60 and west of Rte. 441. Zone C encompasses all the rest of the area in the Northwest Region. Just to give you an idea how that works, Archery season opens September 14th in Zone C, but October 19th in Zone B, so you want to know the areas you’re hunting and the seasons and rules for all those areas. 

The majority of hunters that put their time in in my region hunt on public land, and there’s just a ton of public hunting land in my region, and most of it is north of Pasco County. The biggest buck ever shot in the state of Florida came off of a public Wildlife Management Area out of the Green Swamp, which is in my region. There are Florida Wildlife Management Areas from Tampa all the way up to the Panhandle. There are even paid draws through the state that you can pay to be a member of if your name gets drawn.

There’s also a lot of private land to hunt on and private leases that you can pay the land owner to hunt. These areas tend to be more productive than the public hunting areas because they don’t get the hunting pressure that the public lands experience, so the wildlife is more abundant and not as wary. That being said, the state of Florida has excellent hunting on public land. 

The most popular targets for hunters in my region are deer, hog, turkey, dove, quail and ducks. Deer and hog are probably the most popular wild game, with the deer going into the rut around the first cool mornings of fall. Hogs are more plentiful than deer, and are considered a pest on private land, where you can hunt them year-round.

The majority of deer and hog hunters in Florida target them either with rifle or bow, although there’s still some old-school hunters that use shotguns and muzzleloaders. There’s a specific season for muzzleloader, which gives the guys using the primitive hunting methods an opportunity to shoot a deer or hog before the larger masses of hunters take to the woods.

The thing to remember about hunting deer and hog in Florida is that while the seasons open in the early fall, it’s still usually pretty warm, so the animals are most active at dawn and dusk—the coolest periods of the day. In the middle of the day, they like to find a place in the shade to bed down and rest, although there’s an old hunter that told me he had his best success on public land in the middle of the day, because that’s when all the hunters got down from their tree stands and pushed the game in his direction.

We have a fall and spring turkey season, with the spring season the most popular. There are two species of wild turkeys in my region, the Eastern Turkey and the Osceola Turkey. The Osceola is less prevalent and probably the toughest turkey species in the country to hunt. They don’t call as much as Eastern Turkeys, especially on public land, and they’re a smaller bird.

Turkey hunting on the Wildlife Management Lands is outstanding in my region, and a lot of birds are harvested every year. Of course, for any hunting in these areas you need a valid Florida Wildlife Management Area Stamp, as well as a hunting license, and if you’re hunting turkey you need a turkey stamp.

For waterfowl hunters, there are two duck seasons in Florida, the early waterfowl season in September and the regular waterfowl season in November. These seasons and bird limits are subject to change annually, so you want to consult the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission Website at www.myfwc.com for up to date rules and regulations on Florida waterfowl hunting.

There’s a lot of really great places to hunt waterfowl in my region, from farm ponds to major lakes, the opportunities are just too numerous to list. A lot of the lakes and bays people fish on are open to waterfowl hunting. In fact, the south shore of Tampa Bay is a great area for duck hunting that you don’t hear a lot about. You’ve always been able to hunt the bay in Hillsborough County, but now you can hunt in Pinellas County, so you can actually shoot ducks on both side of the bay this year.

Wingshooting is super popular in my region. A lot of guys like to hunt doves in the fall and do extremely well on the public land areas that are open to dove hunting. Some of the areas have specialty dove hunts that you can apply for and if you get picked get in some very good dove hunting. The majority of dove hunting takes place on private land, and can be very good at times. The same goes for quail hunting, the majority takes place on private lands where the owners have managed wild or released birds for hunting.

There’s also plenty of hunting clubs and guided hunt opportunities for just about all these species. Some of the best turkey and quail hunting in the country takes place on these large tracts of land that are managed for big numbers of birds.

So whatever you like to hunt for, there’s plenty of places to go and lots of opportunities to spend time in the woods in my region this fall. If you have any questions about regulations, applications for specialty hunts, gator hunts or a list of management areas, you can find all that information on the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website at www.myfwc.com/.

Captain Tips