Eight ‘Must Know’ Hunting Details About Florida’s Wildlife Management Area System
By Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission // January 7, 2021
FWC is the lead manager or landowner for 1.46 million acres
(FWC) – If you have hunted a wildlife management area or are planning to, the following information can help you make the most of Florida’s public hunting areas, understand how these hunting opportunities are managed, and contribute to the process of developing hunting-related rules for WMAs.
■ Most WMAs are owned or managed by entities other than the FWC
The majority of Florida’s 6-million-acre WMA system is managed or owned by government agencies or private landowners the FWC has partnered with.
The FWC is the lead manager or landowner for 1.46 million acres and works with cooperators to allow hunting and other outdoor recreation on another 4.54 million acres.
WMAs are managed for conservation and recreation and provide a diversity of habitats managed for wildlife.
■ WMAs are for everyone
There are over 184 areas across the state in the WMA system, from Perdido River WMA in northwest Florida to Southern Glades WEA in the south region and all points in between.
These areas are managed to conserve a variety of wildlife species and provide outdoor recreation opportunities. Certainly, hunting is a mainstay on Florida’s WMA system and is offered in the vast majority of areas.
These public areas also provide opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, paddling, hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling.
Some areas even offer shooting range facilities and camping.
When you are on a shooting range, it is important to wear appropriate clothing to cover as much of your skin as possible. You should also be aware of your surroundings and protect your hearing and eyesight by wearing earplugs or earmuffs and goggles.
Ensure that you have eye and ear protection gear with high-quality and comfortable design. To protect your hearing from damage, ear plugs or earmuffs must fit snugly and properly. Always wear safety glasses or goggles with clear lenses to protect your eyes and ears from potential injuries. Maintaining your lenses is crucial, and they should be scratch-resistant and shatter-proof.
■ A variety of hunting opportunities are offered at WMAs
Hunters can choose from quota hunts, special-opportunity hunts, and public hunting areas where a quota permit is not required to hunt.
Depending on the WMA and time of year, hunters can pursue deer, turkey, waterfowl, wild hogs, dove, quail, gray squirrels, and more.
The FWC also issues permits for hunting on several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges in Florida (but does not manage those hunts).
■ Florida’s Quota Hunt Program serves multiple purposes
Quotas, which are the maximum number of hunters permitted to hunt on a WMA during a given period of time, provide hunters with quality hunting experiences.
In addition to managing game populations, quotas are used to prevent overcrowding on WMAs that are smaller or in high demand.
The number of quota permits available for each area is based on an area’s size, habitat, game populations, and hunter preference, and are issued through random draw lotteries throughout the seasons.
Quota permits also allow the FWC to offer hunts to a broad range of users. People can apply for youth, family, and mobility-impaired quota hunts as well as archery, muzzleloading gun, and general gun quota permits.
Quota hunts are also offered for deer, wild turkey, wild hog, quail, dove, and waterfowl.
Quota permits are issued at no cost to hunters; however, unless exempt from license requirements, applicants must have a valid Florida management area permit (or license that includes a management area permit) to apply.
■ Special-opportunity hunts are… special!
These hunts are designed to provide high-quality public hunting experiences through large tracts of land, low hunter quotas, and abundant populations of deer, wild turkeys and wild hogs.
Hunters can submit as many applications for special-opportunity hunts as they want.
In fact, many hunters submit several applications to increase their chances of being awarded a permit via random draw.
There is a $5 non-refundable application fee that must be submitted with each individual application. Permit fees range from $50 to $175 for those awarded a permit through the random drawing.
■ Stakeholders are an important part of the rulemaking process for WMAs
The public has many opportunities to provide input during the rulemaking process for WMAs, beginning with submitting their ideas for rule changes to the FWC.
After proposals go through an extensive review process, stakeholders have several chances to provide input on recommended rule changes.
In addition, public testimony opportunities are provided at each Commission meeting after draft rule changes are presented.
If the Commission approves the proposed rule amendments for advertising in the Florida Administrative Register, the FWC continues to seek feedback from stakeholders until rule changes are presented for final adoption at a future Commission meeting.
To learn more, visit MyFWC.com and click on “About Us” and then “Rules and Regulations.”
■ Improvements to the WMA search tool were made based on stakeholder feedback
The FWC’s new WMA search tool, WMA Finder, was developed to help users find public hunting opportunities based on location, season, species, and type of hunt.
WMA Finder also helps users search for fishing, camping, horseback riding, and shooting range opportunities on our WMA system. Early users of this tool were vital to the software testing process, and their input prompted the FWC to make improvements to WMA Finder.
In addition to enhancing the search tool, the FWC offers a video about Avanza Maps, a free mobile app that lets you track your location in real-time on FWC’s WMA maps. Find the video and more at MyFWC.com/WMABrochures.
■ The following tips can help you plan a stress-free visit to a WMA
Before you head afield, we recommend you carefully review the WMA regulations brochure for the area you want to hunt because season dates and other rules may vary from statewide seasons and other WMAs.
Also, before visiting a WMA, always check the area’s open/closed status to determine its availability to public access and if there are any road closures or updates about check stations or entrances. You can find this information by visiting MyFWC.com and clicking on the red button “WMA Closures and Updates.”
In addition, WMA regulations brochures and maps are only available online and access to WMA regulations brochures is through the WMA Finder only.
If you want to take the WMA regulations brochures and area maps with you, even to places internet access isn’t available, we recommend taking a screenshot with your smartphone, downloading the files to your mobile device or printing them.