In the last century, whitetails have undergone significant changes in the Sunshine State. In the 1930s, there were only about 20,000 left due to widespread efforts to eliminate tick-borne diseases. Deer were the primary culprit responsible for passing on various diseases, and the population suffered mightily.
But the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC) has worked diligently to increase the population. Deer were purchased and relocated from several sources, including a game farm in Wisconsin.
Today the population is in good condition. While the GFC doesn’t estimate the number of deer the state has, hunters harvested 122,949 of them in 2012. This continued a recent downward harvest trend (138,000 deer in 2011), but nothing that should concern hunters.
“We believe the current [season] will be just as good as the last few, which have been among the highest on record for Florida,” said GFC deer program coordinator Cory Morea.
Expect a similar harvest to last year, with hunters having about a 15-20 percent success rate. No major diseases have significantly impacted deer, and their greatest threats (besides hunters of course) still come from predators like Burmese pythons.
This season a new Private Lands Deer Management Program allows qualifying landowners with more than 5,000 acres to use any method of take during all the deer hunting seasons. Landowners must complete an approved wildlife management plan and commit to practicing specific conservation practices on their property each year.
The Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Northwest Florida continues to be a popular public hunting destination. Hunters there can only bag a buck if it has at least three points on one side. Similarly, the Half Moon WMA in the central region is another public land hotspot, with hunters required to abide by the same antler point restriction as those up at Joe Budd.