by Beau Tallent
The pursuit of wild animals in wild places is a deep-rooted instinct for hunters. Every hunt holds a hint of adventure. For some, the wilder the animal and the wilder the place, the greater the passion for the hunt.
In North America, it doesn’t get any wilder than spending a night in a southern swamp hunting an enormous, powerful alligator, with the ultimate goal of bringing that prehistoric beast—very much alive and secured only by a line—right up beside the boat.
Conservation and habitat protection brought the American alligator back in the last century from the brink of extinction. Removed from the Endangered Species list in 1987, alligator populations in the South are robust and growing in 10 states, enough so that several southern states offer recreation hunting for alligators.
“There’s certainly an element of adventure—and a hint of danger,” said Daryl Kirby, an editor and outdoor writer from Georgia. “When I drew a permit, it was a surprise. I didn’t know anything about alligator hunting, and a coworker and I pretty much winged it. We camped at a WMA and hunted the Savannah River.
“I’ll never forget that feeling as darkness began to fall and the realization hit—we were about to try to shoot an alligator with a bow and arrow. You can imagine the anticipation we were feeling, but in the end there was way more excitement and adrenalin than we could have ever imagined. We ended up taking a 10-footer than weighed more than 450 pounds. It was an all-night ordeal, full of highs and lows. It was crazy.”
States that offer recreational hunting opportunities for alligators include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. For recreational hunting, all of the states have a common regulation—hunters must first attach a restraining line to the alligator before it can be killed, either with a firearm or bang stick. Here’s a snapshot of alligator hunting opportunities, listed in my order of your best bets, with an emphasis on non-resident opportunity. As always, do your own research on each state’s application process, regulations and season dates.
Florida: When most people think of alligators, they think of Florida, and for good reason. It seems like every lake, river and canal in the Sunshine State is home to alligators. Florida offers lots of opportunity, issuing about 5,000 permits per season, and each permit holder can take two alligators. Permits are issued to specific areas. Approximately 10,000 hunters apply for those Florida permits—not bad odds compared to other states where fewer permits are issued. A drawback to Florida is the cost. For residents, the Alligator Trapping License costs $272. For nonresidents, the cost is a hefty $1,022. Guided hunts are popular for nonresidents, and a list of outfitters and guides can be found at MyFWC.com.
For info on seasons, regulations and the quota process, visit http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/harvest.
Georgia: Alligator hunting in Georgia is through a permit process, and preference points are awarded. Since this popular draw has been going on for more than a decade, hunters will need at least three preference points to draw a permit, and up to five or six preference points for the better areas. The number of permits issued has gradually increased since the hunts began, and now more than 900 gator permits are issued per season in Georgia. While you won’t draw a permit until you build preference points, unlike other states, there is no application fee for the Georgia system. You have nothing to lose, so start building your points. The process is all done online, and while you are at it, you can start building points for some excellent turkey and deer hunting on public lands—again with no application fee.
For more information, visit www.georgiawildlife.org/hunting/quota.
South Carolina: South Carolina held the state’s first alligator hunts in 2008, and the South Carolina program has developed into one of the best options for non-residents. The cost is reasonable—about $350 for all of the fees and tags for a non-resident—and there are lots of big gators in areas with public access. Applicants will need to build preference points, and there is a $10 fee for the online application process, whether you are drawn or not. The number of permits issued each season is subject to vary, but expect more than 1,000 permits to be issued for 2016.
For more information, visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/alligator.
Texas: Alligator hunting in Texas differs from other states in that Texas allows hunting during daylight hours and limb-line sets are allowed. Texas has two areas with different season dates. For the 22 core counties in east Texas, the season is in the fall. In non-core counties, there is a three-month spring season. Private landowners receive tags from the wildlife department, but there are also tags available for six hunting public areas through a drawing. There is a $3 application fee for the public-land hunts, and then those selected have to pay an additional $80 permit fee. Preference points are awarded to those not selected.
To download a 32-page guide to Texas alligator hunting that includes regulations, seasons and contact information for guides, go to http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_1011.pdf.
Alabama: Hunting alligators in Alabama made headlines when a 1,011-pound world-record gator was taken in August 2014 by permit-holder Mandy Stokes and her team of hunters. Pictures of the 15-foot-long beast went viral on social media. There are good populations of big alligators in the specific regions of the state where hunting is allowed, and obviously there are some monster gators in Alabama. Alabama went to a preference-point system beginning with the 2015 season. Before that, there was no limit to the number of applications a hunter could submit, but each submission cost $10. Those willing to spend big bucks could significantly increase their odds of getting a permit. The new system is more fair, and it means each year that a hunter is not selected, the preference points increase the odds for a future selection. The bad news—if you don’t live in Alabama—is that only residents can apply for the permit. Licensed nonresidents can hunt with a permit holder as assistants, but nonresidents are eligible for the quota drawing.
For more information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/alligator-hunting-season-alabama.
Mississippi: Mississippi alligator hunting on public waters is open only to residents, who may apply for one of 920 permits. For non-residents, your only option for alligator hunting in Mississippi is as an “assistant” to a resident who drew a permit. Like most states, training seminars are mandatory. Hunting assistants over 16 years of age must possess an alligator-hunting license and a Mississippi all-game license.
For more information, visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/alligator-program.aspx.
Arkansas: There is some limited alligator hunting opportunity in southern Arkansas, but less than 100 permits are issued annually, and they’re available only to residents or non-residents who apply with a resident. Biologists determine the number of permits issued each year for the alligator management zones. For more information, visit www.agfc.com/licenses/Pages/PermitsSpecialAlligator.aspx.
Gator Hunting Techniques
If your gator-hunting primer course comes from watching “Swamp People” on television, it’s time for a crash course on the realities of gator hunting. “Fishing” for gators—using limb lines and giant hooks with large baits, like a whole chicken—is only allowed in Louisiana and Texas. Other states don’t allow shooting free-swimming gators from across the bayou with a deer rifle, either. For recreational alligator hunting, you will need to attach a sturdy line to the alligator, bring it up beside your boat, and dispatch the close-up beast with a shot to the base of the skull.
Here’s are the methods allowed in all states that are the most popular and most effective at securing a line to an alligator so it can then be shot.
- Archery: The method most newcomers to alligator hunting will be familiar with is using their deer-hunting bow or crossbow. The setup can be as simple as a bowfishing arrow attached to heavy-duty line that is coiled at the shooter’s feet, with a buoy or large float tied to the end. However, specialized gear is recommended. Muzzy produces a Gator Getter Kit for both bow and crossbow setups. The kit includes a float, specialized arrow, a hand-wind reel spooled with 500-pound test line, and mounting brackets. Once shot with an arrow, the alligator typically submerges. The hunters go to the float, and one pulls the gator up, and the other hunter is ready to dispatch with a firearm as it comes up next to the boat. Nothing will prepare you for the sight of an alligator rising to the surface right next to the boat, and there’s no way to get job done from a distance.
- Harpoon: Hit an alligator with a harpoon, and you have the most-secure line possible among the methods allowed for gator hunting in most states. The problem is that a hunter has to be very close to effectively drive a harpoon through the tough hide of an alligator. A harpoon is a great secondary tool to use when a gator is brought to the side of the boat. Getting a second or even third line in an alligator is recommended, which makes the harpoon a great tool for alligator hunters.
• Snatch Hook: Some of the biggest alligators taken by hunters were “caught” using super-sized, weighted treble hooks. These snatch hooks are either attached to a rope and tossed by hand or tied to the end of strong fishing line cast on sturdy saltwater-style rods. A standard size for hand lining is a 14/0 treble hook, while a lighter 12/0 works better for casting. Snatch hooks work very well for alligators that spook and dive to the bottom and in waters that are more open and deeper. Once an alligator is hooked with a treble, using a harpoon to secure a secondary line is good idea.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.