The traditions families create to spend precious time together are what make the holiday season so special. For Florida outdoorsmen and women, the best holiday traditions center around a love of the outdoors, hunting and wild game feasts! Enjoying the outdoors with loved ones is especially important during a year as challenging as this one.
For Cameron Gordon, who grew up a few miles east of Orlando, the holidays are an extra special time to get away from the demands of daily life and do what he enjoys most – small game hunting at Florida’s wildlife management areas.
Cameron kicks off the holidays with an annual Thanksgiving trip to St. Johns River. The morning begins in a marsh with a buddy and his trusty retriever, a thermos of coffee and the eager anticipation of seeing ducks buzz their decoy spread. The afternoon is spent hunting for snipe.
The time between Christmas and New Year’s marks another special outdoor tradition as Cameron’s family and friends celebrate the season with a camping trip at Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area. There are plenty of small game options at that and many other WMAs so each person can pursue their favorite hunt, whether it’s for dove, ducks, quail, rabbit or gray squirrel.
“It’s a challenge, deciding what gun and shot size to bring because there’s so much opportunity at Triple N,” Cameron said. “The area has creeks, marshes, fields and food plots. It’s my favorite wildlife management area!”
The day culminates with a wild game feast that would be the envy of foodies everywhere. They get the fire started and everyone contributes to the campfire meal, from venison stew to roasted dove and quail, and all the fixings.
Cameron, who represented hunters as part of a Triple N Ranch Management Advisory Group meeting, is introducing his young sons to hunting now with the hope these rich family traditions will carry on into the future.
Elizabeth Bland, the Florida State President for the American Daughters of Conservation, celebrates the New Year with an all-day deer hunt with her family’s dogs. She cherishes the time spent with her husband, brother, sister-in-law and niece as well as the thrill of hunting behind her Walker hounds.
“It’s a day full of action,” Elizabeth said. “Whether you harvest a deer or not, watching the dogs that you bred, raised and trained doing something they love and doing it well makes the whole trip worth it.”
After the hunt the family gathers together, including Elizabeth’s parents, to prepare and eat a delicious Low Country boil. Then they ring in the new year around a roaring campfire while sharing stories of that day’s hunt and reminiscing about past hunts.
The holiday hunting tradition began many years ago for Glenn Whittington, who hails from south of Ocala and now lives in Bradfordville. Every year after Thanksgiving, he and his father would spend four to five days at a friends and family deer camp. It was a special time to enjoy the company of his father and it fueled his passion for wildlife, conservation and hunting. Today, Glenn is making sure those family traditions don’t disappear by introducing his sons to hunting. They enjoy hunting deer, dove and duck together as well as wild turkey in the spring.
“The holidays are a chance to get outdoors with my sons. We take every opportunity we can to camp and hunt around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Glenn said. “When I was young, my father and I hunted Citrus WMA, which was only a half mile from where we lived. Being able to hunt public land is still important. My sons and I have hunted at Joe Budd WMA and are planning to check out Apalachee WMA.”
During the holidays, hunting seasons for deer, duck, dove, snipe, quail, and gray squirrel are in full swing in Florida. If you’re one of those lucky people who can take a break from work, the winter holidays are a great time to continue an existing hunting tradition or start a new one. Plus, Florida has one of the largest wildlife management area systems in the country at nearly 6 million acres, which offers a wide range of hunting opportunities. Whether you’re just getting started or you’re an experienced hunter, you can find resources and information at MyFWC.com/Hunting to start planning a holiday hunting adventure.