There's finally a chill and a certain festiveness in the air as most of us try to take time off from work to enjoy spending quality time with family and friends and reflect on the passing year. Children will be out of school on winter break soon, and while the holiday season's upon us, so are several traditional hunting opportunities.
The second phase of waterfowl and coot season comes in statewide Dec. 6 and runs through Jan. 25. In addition to the usual hunting license and permit requirements, duck hunters also must have a Florida waterfowl permit ($3) and a federal duck stamp ($15).
The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but you need to know your ducks before you pull the trigger, because there are different daily limits for each species. For instance, within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck, one fulvous whistling-duck and one pintail.
Only two of your six-bird limit can be redheads and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks, and canvasback season is closed.
This year, the daily bag limit on scaup has changed, and you may take only one through Jan. 5; then you can take two from Jan. 6 until waterfowl season ends Jan. 25. The daily limit on coots is 15, and there's a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.
When hunting waterfowl, hunters may use only non-toxic shotgun shells. In fact, it's illegal for hunters even to possess lead shot when waterfowl hunting. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten-alloys are permissible.
For something different, try woodcock hunting. Woodcock season runs Dec. 20 – Jan. 18. Woodcocks are excellent game birds because they hold well for pointing bird dogs and provide a challenging shot when flushed. The daily bag limit is three.
The third phase of mourning and white-winged dove season opens Dec. 13 and runs through Jan. 11. The daily bag limit's been increased this year to 15 birds.
From November on, shooting hours for all migratory birds are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. You must get a no-cost migratory bird permit where you purchase your hunting license before you hunt any of these birds, though.
The only firearm you're allowed to hunt migratory game birds with is a shotgun, no larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined). Bows also are legal.
Retrievers and bird dogs can be useful in hunting migratory game birds. Artificial decoys, as well as manual or mouth-operated bird calls, also are legal and essential gear for duck hunters.
You may hunt migratory game birds over an agricultural field, as long as the crop's been planted by regular agricultural methods. However, don't even think about "sweetening" the field by scattering agricultural products over it – or anywhere near it – or you could wind up in serious trouble. It doesn't matter if you aren't the one who scattered the bait. If you knew or should've known that such bait was present, you're accountable under the law.
Some other things you can't do while hunting migratory game birds include using rifles, pistols, crossbows, traps, snares, nets, sinkboxes, swivel guns, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosive substances, live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds or electrically amplified bird-call imitations. Shooting from a moving automobile or boat and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also are against the law.
Bobcat and otter hunting season is Dec. 1 – March 1, and there's no daily bag or season limit on either species.
Like foxes, bobcats may be chased year-round with dogs, but possessing firearms during the closed season between March 2 and Nov. 30 is prohibited. On a few wildlife management areas, bobcats and otters may not be taken, so please consult the specific area brochure before you hunt.
Whether upland bird hunting with friends and family, shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab or taking that big bobcat as he slips up behind an unsuspecting fawn, December has the hunting opportunities you're looking for.
Here's wishing you happy holidays and a successful hunting season. If you can, remember to introduce someone new to our great sport. As always, have fun, hunt safely and ethically, and we'll see you in the woods!