Deer Forecast-South

Pasco County

Public-land hunting is nothing to scoff at in the Sunshine State. One of the biggest deer in state history came off a wildlife management area in 1999. Scoring 204-plus points, the non-typical in velvet was taken at Green Swamp WMA West Unit. Green Swamp is located in Pasco County, in the state's central region, and offers a good chance for a trophy whitetail due to the fact that it has been open for hunting for only two years.

"We have special opportunity hunts on four WMAs throughout the season, with a restriction of four points on at least one side for each hunt," says Florida deer biologist John Morgan. "These hunts are new to us, so we're going slowly to see if the populations will hold up, and what will transpire." Hunters must apply and be chosen in a lottery in order to participate.

Due to lack of good nutrition despite abundant cover, the average whitetail will weigh about 120 pounds. Denser populations can be found in the Panhandle counties of Escambia, Leon, Tallahassee and Santa Rosa. Habitat is better along the Apalachicola River basin flowing from southern Georgia and in bottomlands along the Escambia and Perdido rivers coming from southern Alabama. The drought that has gripped Florida in the last few years doesn't seem to have affected the deer herd. About 120,000 deer were taken last season, an increase Morgan believes is due to better survey information from hunters.

"We talk about mast crops and all those variables," he says, "but all we know is we've been in a drought and the harvest and population numbers have maintained themselves. We expect to have another good season."

Other limited-draw hunt opportunities can be had on the Lake Panasoffkee WMA in Sumter County, Fort Drum WMA in Indian River County and Triple N Ranch WMA in Osceola County. There are 15 special-opportunity draw hunts on four WMAs during the season for archery and firearms; eight are on Green Swamp, five are on Panasoffkee and one each on Fort Drum and Triple N Ranch.