“Git yer gun, Bubba! It’s time to git a gator!” cries a local, permitted hunter. “Hold on, boys. No guns allowed,” retorts a Park Ranger. Yep, it’s gator hunting season and everybody involved is excited. But they all have to obey some rules.
From mid-August until November 1st, it is legal to hunt and kill alligators in Florida but the way this is done takes a little more skill and effort than just going to the local canal and bagging a big one.
This six-week season could result in a harvest of 10,000 alligators from the statewide population of 1.3 million. The number of applications exceeded 15,000 and only a lucky 7,679 permits will be distributed. A permit holder can only harvest two gators during the season, so a potential 15,000 could be taken, but typically, in past years, about ¾ of the quota is met.
Permits are $272 for Florida residents and $1,022 for non-residents and they sell out every year. The holder receives two tags for their catches and an alligator trapping license.
If you are fortunate enough to acquire a permit, there are rules that must be followed. You can’t just walk up to a local canal and shoot a gator. No guns are allowed. The time of day for hunting begins at 5 PM and ends at 10 AM. The hunt is done by boat, primarily at night, and that really brings out the skills of the professionals involved in this sport.
Gators are snagged by a snatch hook or shot with a crossbow. Bringing a big one to the side of your boat can sometimes take an hour or two. Once they are exhausted, a knife is placed strategically at the base of the skull to end the prey’s life.
With water levels being low in lakes and ponds in previous years, a lot of the bigger gators have been harvested. Some hunters a decade ago were averaging a catch in excess of 11 feet with a huge 14 footer topping the bill. Statewide the average is just under nine feet. One rule dictates that an alligator has to be at least 18 inches long, from snout to tail, as a minimum requirement. The largest size that can be legally caught… good luck, that’s up to the hunter.
Alligators, themselves, are a success story of survival and repopulation. They were on the Florida endangered species list in 1967 and added to the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973. This gave the them an opportunity to revive their numbers, and 20 years later they were declared a recovered species. To keep the population in check the statewide hunt was inaugurated in 1988. This harvest has been recognized internationally as a model program for the sustainable use of a natural resource.
You can go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to receive statewide harvest data from the year 2000 through 2018. Information regarding where most of the gators were caught during a specific year is also available on this site. For example, the most catches in 2011 were in Lake County and that same county repeated as the leader again in 2018. The largest gator caught last year was in Seminole County. Only 10 were harvested in Collier County last year.
So, Bubba, put down that gun and play by the rules. You’ll have to work a bit to git yer prize, but a little hard work never hurt nobody, buddy!
Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer departing from Marco Island. He is the author of two books “Beyond The Mangrove Trees” and “Beneath The Emerald Waves,” both available locally. He is a popular speaker at South Florida venues. Bob loves his wife very much!