Join the Dove Club or go primitive on St. Vincent Island
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) 2017 Landowner of the Year Award winner, Cal Cooksey, annually plants dove fields on his family’s Gadsden County property, and for the past few years has hosted youth dove hunts through the Youth Hunting Program of Florida.
“The future of hunting hinges on finding fun and exciting ways to attract new people to the outdoors and keep them engaged. Taking someone dove hunting for the first time is a great way to accomplish this,” said Cooksey.
When asked what the best thing a new hunter can do to prepare for a dove hunt, he said to shoot trap or sporting clays at a local shooting range. To find a public FWC-managed shooting range near you, go to MyFWC.com/Ranges.
“Trap shooting so closely imitates dove hunting, and the same way you have to lead that clay before pulling the trigger, it’s the same as with a dove in flight,” Cooksey said.
When Cooksey puts a group of hunters in one of his planted dove fields, he makes sure to space them a good, safe 150 yards apart. He says it’s best if a new dove hunter can sit alongside an experienced hunter, so they can pick up tips on identifying doves. He also said there’s a lot of great information available on the internet to learn how to identify doves as well as how to field dress and cook them.
“I love being able to share with others what I’ve had all my life, and see people get excited when they have a successful hunt and start learning about conservation,” Cooksey said.
Because dove hunting is one of the best ways to introduce new people to hunting and enjoy time afield with friends and family, the FWC created its Special-Opportunity Dove Club Program. It offers hunters the chance to experience dove hunting on the state’s best public dove fields.
Dove Club permits enable one adult and one youth (age 15 or younger) to hunt all scheduled dates of a dove field, and each hunter gets to take a daily bag limit of birds. Hunters have the choice of applying as a “group” with up to three adult hunters, or they can apply as an individual. Permits cost $150 per adult hunter. All hunts take place on Saturdays from noon until sunset. Scheduled hunt dates and number of hunts vary between fields.
This coming season, there will be the same five special-opportunity dove fields as there were last year.
Five fields to choose from
Frog Pond North Public Small Game Hunting Area in Miami-Dade County has historically been a top producer of harvested doves. This year, there will be 23 Dove Club permits available to hunt 120 acres planted in Japanese millet, dove proso, browntop millet and sorghum.
There are 13 Dove Club permits available to hunt the 100 acres of browntop millet at Allapattah Flats Public Small Game Hunting Area in Martin County, east of Lake Okeechobee.
Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in Lake County has 15 Dove Club permits available to hunt on 80 acres. This year, the field will be planted in Japanese millet, dove proso, browntop millet and sorghum.
Putnam County’s Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area has three fields that total about 125 acres, and 30 Dove Club permit holders will be able to hunt over browntop millet, Japanese millet, dove proso, sorghum, buckwheat and sunflower.
The remaining field is at Tenoroc Public Small Game Hunting Area in Polk County, with 13 Dove Club permits available to hunt the 50 acres. Planting on this field is currently delayed due to wet field conditions.
How to apply
Dove Club permits will be issued by random drawing during Phase I. That application period runs from 10 a.m. EDT on July 6 through July 16.
After obtaining the correct application worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/License and clicking on “Limited Entry/Quota Hunts,” you can apply for these season passes by filling out a single worksheet (with up to five dove field choices) and turning it in at any county tax collector’s office, license agent or by applying online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. During Phase I, hunters may be awarded a permit for only one dove field.
You can check the drawing results as early as July 20 by logging into your customer account at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, and a pop-up message will let you know if you were successful. And any applicant who provides an email address will also be notified by email. If you are successful in getting drawn, you can pay for it online by clicking on the “Claim” link in the “Permit Applications” section of your customer account, or at any of the above-mentioned license agents by July 30.
Dove hunters online update
Brochures on these areas are available online at MyFWC.com/Dove. You can find tips and regulations on dove hunting there as well. Also at that web address, beginning in late September, hunters will be able to find the most up-to-date harvest information on these special-opportunity dove fields. The website is updated weekly throughout dove season.
St. Vincent Island whitetail hunts
St. Vincent Island is a wonderful place that remains unchanged from what old Florida looked like. The undeveloped barrier island in northwest Florida’s Franklin County offers two white-tailed deer hunts on the 12,490-acre national wildlife refuge.
The first deer hunt is Nov. 15-17 and is an archery hunt. Only vertical bows may be used, unless a hunter has a Disabled Crossbow Permit, in which case a crossbow may be used as well.
During the second white-tailed hunt, hunters may use bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders. That hunt is Jan. 17-19, 2019. There are 250 permits available for each of the two hunts at a cost of $27.50 each.
If you’d like to experience the thrills and solitude of primitive hunting on St. Vincent Island, all you have to do is buy a permit in July.
Accessing the island
You can only get to St. Vincent Island by boat, and if you don’t bring your own, you can make a deal with one of the local charter captains to take you to the island and bring you back after the hunt. For a list of boat captains that offer this service, contact the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce at 850-653-9419.
Did I mention it’s primitive?
The island has no electricity, so it’s all about primitive camping for three days. You’re allowed to have a small campfire, using only wood you bring with you or deadwood you find on the ground. And it’s recommended that you bring a bicycle to get to and from your hunting spot.
If you harvest any game, however, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff will pick you and your animal up in one of their trucks. In addition, transportation to and from hunting spots and accommodations is available to hunters with disabilities.
How to get a permit
If you’d like to purchase a permit for one or both of these primitive hunts, get the appropriate worksheet by going to MyFWC.com/License and clicking on “Limited Entry/Quota Hunts.” Once you’ve completed it, you may buy the permit at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or from any county tax collector’s office or retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, beginning 10 a.m. EDT on July 12. But you had better be quick, ’cause these permits are being offered first-come, first-served until they’re gone.
If you’re looking for a great hunt in a truly beautiful remote place and don’t mind roughing it a bit, you will really enjoy St. Vincent Island. But make sure you’re prepared for inclement weather because you never know what Mother Nature might throw at you.