October is Florida Greenways and Trails Month! DEP has been promoting October as the beginning of hiking season for years. But another state agency slipped a speed bump into the calendar that affects all hikers, cyclists, and paddlers: FWC approved and scheduled first Florida bear hunt to be held in 21 years, which starts this Saturday. While conservation groups have been trying to block the hunt – which is why we’ve held off until now to provide information – it seems likely at this point that the hunt will go on.
When news first surfaced of the intended bear hunt earlier this year, I reached out to a handful of land managers and agencies for their take on how it would affect hikers and other outdoor recreationists in Florida. As you may know, some public lands in Florida have restrictions regarding camping during general gun season (deer hunting) each fall, and this particularly affects backpackers on the Florida Trail. I received no responses other than “it’s up to the land manager.”
I contacted FWC again in September. This time, the answers flowed in. Here’s what we know and what you need to know about keeping safe during the scheduled bear hunt between October 24-30.
First, the Florida Trail is ALWAYS OPEN on all public lands – including Wildlife Management Areas – during hunting seasons. Please be sure to wear a bright orange shirt / pack cover when hiking and backpacking during any hunting season, but especially during the general gun season and the new bear season. The FNST passes through Three Lakes WMA, Tosohatchee WMA, Aucilla WMA, and Perry Oldenburg WEA. There are no restrictions to access these public lands, but you will find the WMAs busiest during hunting seasons.
Bear hunting will occur along these segments of the Florida Trail:
===== UPDATE: Hunting is closed as of 10/24/15, 9 PM in these sections
ORLANDO: Seminole State Forest
OCALA: Ocala National Forest
NORTHEAST FLORIDA: Etoniah Creek State Forest, Osceola National Forest
SUWANNEE: Twin Rivers State Forest
===== UPDATE: Hunting is closed as of 10/24/15, 9 PM in these sections
BIG BEND: Middle Aucilla WMA, Aucilla WMA, Aucilla WMA Pinhook
APALACHICOLA: Apalachicola National Forest
CENTRAL PANHANDLE: Altha Tract Chipola River WMA, Econfina Creek WEA, Pine Log State Forest
The new bear hunting season will impact ALL trails and camping in the National Forests in Florida – Apalachicola, Ocala, and Osceola – plus a number of Trailwalker/Trailtrotter trails in Florida State Forests and a handful of trails on water management district lands. Please see the list at the bottom of this page for full details.
In addition to those mentioned above, popular trails near urban areas that will be impacted during the hunt include the Sabal Palm Trail near Naples; the Kratzert Trail, the Lower Wekiva Loop, and Rock Springs Run Preserve near Sanford; the High Bluff Coastal Trail and Kendrick Boardwalk near Carrabelle; the Tiemann Trail near Panama City Beach.
Thus far, no land manager has stated that there will be restrictions on camping on public land during the bear hunt – verified again on 10/20/15 – but backpackers should use their best judgement.
FWC publishes annual brochures that including hunting dates on each piece of public land where hunting is allowed. That’s what we encourage hikers to take a look at before planning a trip to a piece of public land, especially in the fall. The bear hunt, being newer than their update cycle, is not in any of these brochures yet. Instead, FWC published The Bear Hunting Guide, which in addition to telling hunters the rules and how to shoot, lists all of the public lands on which hunting will occur.
Most hunters will be out in the early morning hours. The hunt will end in each region once a target number of bears have been shot. Overall, FWC has set a limit of 320 bears for hunters statewide. More than 2,600 bear hunting permits have been sold. There are thought to be 3,000 bears in Florida.
Since hiking and biking is permitted on all forest roads within WMAs except where posted, we thought it best to list all of the WMAs where bear hunting will occur. Thanks to FWC for providing the list; we did our research and found the links. Click on these links to see a map of each WMA so you know if a particular trail or campground is inside the hunting zone for bear season.
Again, all trails are open for recreation, but you should use your best judgement as to whether you wish to share the woods during the bear hunt. If you head out there, wear bright orange, no matter whether you are hiking, camping, biking, or paddling. Be safe!
The following public lands will have bear hunting starting Saturday and continuing until October 30 until otherwise specified. On some of these lands, hunters are restricted to using archery or muzzleloading guns.
===== UPDATE: Hunting is closed as of 10/24/15, 9 PM in the EASTERN PANHANDLE*
- Apalachee WMA*
- Apalachicola National Forest: affects all hiking trails including the Florida Trail, and all campgrounds.*
- Apalachicola River WEA*
- Aucilla WMA: includes Pinhook, adjoining St. Marks. Affects the Florida Trail and Goose Pasture campground. *
- Beaverdam Creek WMA: adjoins Apalachicola Bluffs & Ravines and Torreya State Park*
- Big Bend WMA: includes Hickory Mound, Snipe Island, Spring Creek, Tide Swamp. Affects a variety of birding and nature trails.*
- Box-R WMA
- Chipola River WMA: affects the Florida Trail/Altha Trail
- Econfina Creek WEA: affects the Florida Trail and all campgrounds
- Lower Econfina River WMA
- Middle Aucilla WMA: affects paddlers on the Middle Aucilla and trails at Mt. Gilead*
- Ochlockonee River WMA *
- Pine Log State Forest: affects all trails east of SR 79 including the Florida Trail. Affects the Dutch & Faye Tiemann Trail and campsites south of Enviromental Rd. No hunting permitted near Sand Pond campground.
- Talquin WMA (Oct 24-25,30)
- Tate’s Hell State Forest: affects the High Bluff Coastal Trail, Kendrick Boardwalk, paddling trails, and campsites*
- Tate’s Hell – Womack Creek*
- Twin Rivers State Forest (Oct. 24-26): affects the Florida Trail in Ellaville, Black Tract, and Mill Creek Tract, plus Trailwalker and equestrian trails; affects Anderson Springs.*
- Tyndall AFB
- Wakulla State Forest (Oct 24-25,30): affects trails north of Wakulla Springs State Park*
- Bayard CA: hunting is not permitted in the JP Hall Preserve
- Belmore State Forest (Oct 24-26)
- Cary State Forest (Oct 24-26, 30): affects all trails except immediately surrounding the Environmental Center
- Cypress Creek CA (Oct 24-26)
- Etoniah Creek State Forest (Oct 24-26,30): affects the Florida Trail and all other trails
- Four Creeks State Forest (Oct 24-26)
- Little River CA (Oct 24-26)
- Lochloosa CA (Oct 24-25,30): affects all trails
- Osceola National Forest: affects the Florida Trail and all other trails
- Raiford WMA (Oct 24-26)
- Ralph E. Simmons WMA
===== UPDATE: Hunting is closed as of 10/24/15, 9 PM in all of CENTRAL FLORIDA
- Jumper Creek, Withlacoochee State Forest (Oct 24-26): affects hiking trails and campsites east of the Withlacoochee River in Jumper Creek WMA
- Lake Monroe CA: affects the Kratzert Trail
- Marshall Swamp WMA (Oct 24-25): adjoins the Marshall Swamp Trail/Florida Trail
- Ocala National Forest: affects the Florida Trail and all other trails
- Rock Springs Run Preserve (Oct 24-26,30): affects all trails
Seminole State Forest (Oct 24-25,30): affects the Florida Trail and all other trails
- Tiger Bay State Forest: affects all trails
- Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest: affects all trails and camping
- Picayune Strand State Forest: affects the Sabal Palm Trail
- Spirit-of-the-Wild WMA