For better or worse, most local hunters are familiar with the Green Swamp, Three Lakes, and Richloam Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) as large swaths of public properties with easy access throughout the deer seasons. These lands afford ample hunting opportunities but little in the way of privacy.
Enter Florida’s limited-entry hunt program. From May 15 through June 15, folks will be able to apply for quota hunts on properties throughout the state. Many of these are on smaller properties and restrict the number of hunters applying pressure on the game.
As you study your application options for the 2022-23 season, here are a few profiled tracts in Polk County that hunters should take a closer look at this summer. Do note, some of these places aren’t easy to draw; it might take years of preference points to pull a permit. And even if you’re successful that doesn’t mean the deer will surrender to the bed of your truck – they all require hard work in order to bring home the meat.
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• Arbuckle WMA is located 5 miles south of Frostproof in the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. At 13,925 acres of scrub and bottomland hardwoods, this property hosts archery and muzzleloading hunts. What is unique here is the availability of daily quota hunts for weekdays and quotas for select weekends, meaning you don’t have to give up and go home if your weekend permit expires without having taken a buck.
• Amid the ever-increasing development and traffic along US 27 and I-4, the Osprey Unit of Hilochee WMA is loosely framed by these busy thoroughfares. Drawing a permit here is tougher than getting to Orlando during rush hour, though, with 10 permits available each for an archery hunt, a muzzleloader hunt, and one general gun hunt. The property is thick in places, a part of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.
• KICCO WMA is over 7,000 acres west of the Kissimmee River and south of SR 60 near the Westgate River Ranch Resort. This property is essential central Florida land, a mix of oak hammocks, scrubs, and cypress. 25 archery permits are available for five archery hunts with an additional 30 permits spread over two blackpowder hunts.
• Of those listed here, Lake Marion Creek WMA could be one of the hardest places to hunt due to the prevalent hardwood swamps. These 8,620 acres were purchased by Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect water resources. Access is strictly regulated, but there are 70 archery permits, 35 muzzleloader permits, and 70 general gun hunts available from October through February.
• Deer and hogs are abundant on Walk-in-Water WMA, but this place is ill-suited for the novice hunter. The property is 6,034 acres of scrub and sandhill communities. Vehicular access is prohibited, so access is only by foot or bicycle from Walk-in-the-Water Road or CR 630 through miles of sugar sand – not much fun on its own, and much less so when packing out a deer, so plan ahead. 40 archery permits are available for each of five hunts, and 25 muzzleloader hunts will be awarded for two hunts.
No matter where you apply to hunt, be sure to remember a couple of items in the event your number is called.
One, read the brochures very carefully. Bag limits on WMAs are typically different from those published for private lands and also vary from one place to another. When and where you can access the site are also critically important considerations not only for the hunt but also for scouting. WMA brochures can be found at myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures
Two, should you draw one of these quotas and are unable to hunt when the time arrives, please return it through the GoOutdoors website. FWC re-issues unwanted permits on a weekly basis, and hunters left wanting during the original rounds of applications are quick to gobble them up.
Best of luck in this year’s drawings!