From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
-- This fall, Northwest Florida offers special deer and wild hog hunts at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and a unique big game hunt on the island of St. Vincent NWR.
The application period for the hunts begins at 10 a.m. May 3 and continues through 11:59 p.m. June 9.
There are two archery hunts, two general gun hunts and one mobility-impaired gun hunt on St. Marks NWR, which covers 60,000 acres in Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties. Five-day archery hunts for white-tailed deer and wild hogs are Nov. 8 to 12 in the Panacea Unit and Nov. 1 to 5 in the Wakulla Unit. There are 200 available permits for each hunt at $15 each.
The two general gun hunts are both three days long and take place on the area's two units-Wakulla on Dec. 9 to 11 and Panacea on Dec. 16 to 18. There are 150 permits available for the Wakulla Unit, and 80 for the Panacea Unit. These permits cost $15 for those drawn.
The three-day mobility-impaired gun hunt is for hunters certified as mobility-impaired by the FWC. It is on the Panacea Unit Dec. 10 to 12, and 15; permits are available at $15 if drawn.
For hunters looking to rough it a bit more and go after some truly big game, the 12,490-acre undeveloped barrier island of St. Vincent NWR in Franklin County is where the hunt's on for enormous, imported sambar deer.
The reddish brown deer, which are actually in the elk family, are native to Southeast Asia and were introduced on the island in 1908. They can measure 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh more than 700 pounds.
Hunters also can harvest wild hogs on this hunt, but it must use bows or muzzleloaders. Hunters with a Disabled Crossbow Permit may use crossbows.
The primitive-weapon sambar deer/wild hog hunt is Dec. 1 to 3, and there are 200 permits available, costing $25. Hunters who purchased this hunt last year aren't eligible to apply this year.
The bag limit on sambars is two, male or female. There is no bag limit on hogs.
Hunters can get to St. Vincent Island only by boat. Those who do not have a boat can contact the local chamber of commerce for a list of boat captains who provide ferry service to and from the island for a fee.
The island has no electricity and generators are not allowed, so it's all about primitive camping for three days. Hunters may have a small campfire, but only using wood they take with them or deadwood they find on the ground.
Hunters can take a bicycle, unless they plan to walk everywhere. For those who harvest any game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff will pick up hunter and animal in one of their trucks. That is the only way to catch a ride in a motorized vehicle, except for hunters with disabilities who receive special accommodations and transportation to and from their hunting spots.
Sambar deer feed on aquatic vegetation, so hunters are not likely to find the deer in drier, upland habitat. It's best to set up in marshes. Shooting hours for this hunt end at 3 p.m. each day.
All of the special hunt permits are nontransferable. An adult must accompany permit-holders under age 16 on all of these hunts, but that person may not hunt unless they also have a permit. Mobility-impaired hunters can bring one guest who may hunt, but both hunters must share a single bag limit. Only permitted hunters or the adult supervisor of a permitted youth are allowed access to St. Vincent Island during the sambar deer hunt.
Up to five hunters can choose to apply as a group. To apply as a group, one person must first apply as group leader, indicate the creation of a group and enter the hunt choice for the group. The group leader receives a group number (printed on receipt), which group members need. Each group member must then submit a $5 application and indicate the group number.
Hunters can apply for these permits online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com. Choose Limited Entry/Quota Permits and Applications or complete an application worksheet and present it to any license agent or tax collector's office by 11:59 p.m. June 9.
Permit information and application worksheets are available online at www.MyFWC.com/Hunting; click on Limited Entry Hunts.
The FWC issues permits by a random drawing in late June. The application fee is $5. Hunters can check the results of the drawings online at www.MyFWC.com/Hunting by clicking on Limited Entry Hunts and the Drawing Results link.