This year, deer hunters across Florida will play their part in an improved deer management approach. The new hunting rules now better reflect the local deer herd and the desires of hunters in their part of the state.
The changes arose because hunters told the FWC that they wanted more modern deer management in Florida. FWC staff had been hearing these comments for years, and they were echoed by a group of hunters in the statewide Deer Management Technical Assistance group, who volunteered to help FWC rethink its approach.
New objectives for locally based deer management resulted from a two-year effort that included a statewide, scientific opinion survey, working with local stakeholder volunteers and extensive public outreach and input. Through this, FWC staff heard that hunters generally wanted to see more deer when hunting and have opportunities to harvest larger-antlered deer. One set of tools needed to reach these new objectives is hunting regulations.
Deer Management Units, or DMUs, define the areas within Florida’s hunting zones to allow for the new locally based approach. FWC staff brought to the process data on deer herd characteristics in each unit. In 2013, the Commission passed the first hunting rules based on two DMUs in Northwest Florida (Hunting Zone D).
The changes included greater antler regulations and adjustments to the antlerless deer season. This first step, which reflected the input from the hunters in those units, went into effect for the 2014-15 hunting season. The new rules seem to be well-received by many of the Northwest Florida hunters.
Beginning this hunting season, the shift to managing deer at a more local level will be in place across the rest of Florida. The entire state is now divided into 12 DMUs, which are based on geographic differences in habitat quality as well as biological information and data showing how the deer herd varies across Florida.
Because of these differences, antler regulations and antlerless deer seasons now vary by DMU across Florida. Hunters should know that the changes are specifically designed for their area and herd. Also, hunters on private and public lands will know that the new regulations apply to everyone and should help them work together toward positive changes in their deer herd.
Over the next few years, because of these changes, hunters will be playing their part in managing the deer herd through harvest. We’ll continue to check on the results of the new approach through annual harvest surveys, which measure deer harvest and hunter participation in each DMU. This information will help us see how well we’re doing toward reaching the DMU goals. We also plan to gauge hunters’ perspectives and satisfaction levels in a few years after these changes are in place and have had a chance to meaningfully affect the deer herd.
It’s our hope that Florida deer hunters will see that their participation in the process and in following the new regulations will help bring Florida’s deer management in line with current deer populations and hunters’ preferences. You can learn more about Florida’s deer management and the new hunting regulations by visiting MyFWC.com/Deer.
Here’s wishing you a great hunting season and asking you to please help pass along our Florida hunting heritage by taking a youngster hunting with you when you can – and help to create the next generation that cares about conservation.
Nick Wiley - Executive Director, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission