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Florida hunting opportunities to enjoy this December

There’s finally a chill and certain festiveness in the air as many of us make plans to go afield during the holidays. It’s such a special time of year. Children will be out of school on winter break soon. Friends and family are gathering. And for some, there’s time off from work. This holiday season, celebrate the natural way by enjoying one of Florida’s traditional hunting opportunities listed below.

1) Waterfowl and coot season

The second phase of waterfowl and coot season comes in statewide Dec. 12 and runs through Jan. 31. In addition to the usual hunting license and permit requirements, duck hunters also must have a Florida waterfowl permit ($5) and a federal duck stamp ($28).

Or, you may opt to get a Lifetime Sportsman’s License instead. That license allows you to hunt and fish in Florida for the rest of your life, even if you move away and are no longer a resident. So, parents, think about that as a possible holiday gift for your outdoors youngster!

All licenses and permits you’ll need are available at county tax collectors’ offices, at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA.

Duck bag limits

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 may be only one black duck, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling-duck.

Only two of your six-bird limit may be canvasbacks, pintails, redheads or scaup, and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters or four mallards (of which only two may be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks.

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 nontoxic shotgun shells. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various tungsten-alloys are permissible.

2) Woodcock season

For something different, try woodcock hunting. Woodcock season always runs Dec. 18 – Jan. 31. 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.

3) Dove season

The third phase of mourning and white-winged dove season opens Dec. 12 and runs through Jan. 15. The daily bag limit is 15 birds.

Migratory bird hunting regulations

From November on, the shooting hours for all migratory birds are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. However, you must get a no-cost migratory bird permit where you purchase your hunting license before you hunt any of these birds.

The only firearm you can use to hunt migratory game birds 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 and 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 if the crop was 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 have known that such bait was present, you’re accountable under federal 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 and recorded bird calls, sounds or electrically amplified bird-call imitations. It is also against the law to shoot from a moving automobile or boat and herd or drive birds with vehicles or vessels.

4) Bobcat season

Bobcat hunting season runs Dec. 1 – March 31, and there’s no daily bag or season limit.

Like foxes, bobcats may be chased year-round with dogs, but possessing firearms during the closed season, between April 1 and Nov. 30, is prohibited. On a few wildlife management areas, bobcats may not be taken, so please consult the specific area brochure before you hunt.

December has the hunting opportunities you’re looking for, whether you are upland-bird hunting with friends and family, shooting ducks on the pond with your favorite lab or taking that stealthy bobcat as he slips up behind an unsuspecting fawn.