Gator Hunting Across the South
excitement for the family in these fair chase hunts!
By: Captain Phil Walters of
The South's Most Experienced Professional Gator Guide
The alligator’s native range is across the semitropical coastal plains of the southeastern U.S. States that currently have fair chase public hunting opportunities include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Most of these states have rules and regulations that are very similar, with the common thread being that you must first attach a strong restraining line or lines to the beast before you may dispatch him. The most common way to attach the line is with a hand-thrown harpoon. The harpoon has a small detachable dart on the business end that goes under the gator’s tough hide and doesn’t come out. Other methods include a stout-casting rod with a treble or grappling hook (usually followed by a harpoon), archery equipment rigged for alligators, specially rigged spear guns, and (while not the best tool, but occasionally works) a wire slip snare.
Unlike other types of hunting where your comfort zone is measured in multiple yards, gator hunting is up close and personal. So close, in fact, you undoubtedly will look your quarry straight in the eye before you hopefully send him on a one-way trip to the great game preserve in the sky. Additionally, while you may have to hunt your gator solo, it’s usually conducted with a number of family members or friends as there are often simultaneous, multiple tasks needed to successfully harvest a large beast. The trick is to get close enough to the gator to attach the line. The casting rod offers the greatest reach in distance. However, there is a tradeoff as additional lines usually must be attached to control the gator. The same is true for archery equipment, which gives you slightly more distance to attach a line than a harpoon but, should your target be a mature gator more than 8 feet long, you may find it necessary to attach additional lines to gain dominating control.
The harpoon offers the very strongest and most stable line of all the attaching tools. Often, the harpoon is used in conjunction with other methods. At boat-side, it is used as a final, stable line. With practice and stalking skills you may sneak close enough to a large bull gator to use the harpoon as the only method of delivering controlling lines.
Each state offers various training seminars on their programs, gator biology, the parameters of the hunt, the specialized equipment needed and a basic explanation of how to safely go about this adventure. In some states this seminar is mandatory, in others it’s voluntary. Either way, it's strongly advised for beginners. Below is a brief summary of each state that offers the public an opportunity to fair chase hunt a wild lizard. The best states for nonresidents to hunt are Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. All other states offering seasonal alligator hunts only allow residents to draw a tag. Of course, if you have a relative or hunting buddy that will accompany you on the hunt, you may have them apply for a license in those states and, if drawn, you may hunt under their license as an assistant. Please visit each state’s wildlife agency Web site for specifics on each program.
Alabama: visit www.OutDoorAlabama.com
A random drawing is conducted for residents 16 years and older. The hunt areas are the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta (125 tags) in southwest Alabama and the Chattahoochee River’s Lake Eufaula counties (60 tags) in the southeast. The season for the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is August 14-16 and 21-23. For the Lake Eufaula counties, season dates are August 21-31, with sunset to sunrise as legal hunting times for all areas. Applications for residents only ($6) will be accepted starting June 1 with a deadline of July 13. The selection process occurs immediately after the close of the application window.
Required licenses are an alligator possession permit and a hunting license. Training class is mandatory for hunters selected. Both hunting areas hold good numbers of trophy-class gators. Minimum legal size is 6 feet. Baiting is not allowed.
State record: 12' 10" Mobile Delta
Arkansas: visit www.agfc.com/huntingseasons
The Arkansas program began in 2007 and has a lottery drawing for its 40 resident-only tags (non- residents may hunt with a selected resident). Hunt zones are the southeast and southwest portions of the state. The application period for hunters 16 and older is June 1-30, with the drawing conducted in early July. A training class is mandatory. Success rate is about 80 percent of permitted hunters. An Arkansas hunting license is required for all participating.
Legal hours are one half hour after sunset to one half hour before sunrise. The season dates are the last two weekends in September. Minimum legal size is 4 feet. Snatch hooks are not legal to use as a locating/restraining device and baiting is prohibited.
As an interesting side note, Arkansas is the only state to offer limited public access hunting of both alligator and elk.
State record: 12′ 8", 550 lbs
Georgia: visit http://georgiawildlife.dnr.state.ga.us/huntingregulations_hunting..aspx
Georgia will issue approximately 550 tags to hunters over the age of 12 for eight zones across the southern and eastern portions of the state. The season opens the first weekend in September and continues through the first weekend of October. Legal hunting may take place around the clock during the open season. Hunters not selected will receive a priority point for use in future alligator quota drawings.
The application deadline is July 31. Opportunities are open to both residents and nonresidents. Selected hunters must purchase an alligator hunting permit ($50-$200) and possess a valid Georgia hunting license. All hunt participants or onboard the hunt vessel must also possess a gator-hunting permit and hunting license. Training seminar attendance is not mandatory but strongly suggested. Minimum legal size is 4 feet and baiting is prohibited.
The 2003 season was the first year of the public program. Now in its seventh year, there are good numbers of trophy-class gators in the state. Additionally, Georgia is very friendly and reasonable to nonresidents as fees are appropriately priced and the rules of harvest are very hunter-friendly.
State record: 13′ 7", Zone 3, Lake Blackshear
Florida: visit http://MyFWC.com/gators
Since its inception in 1988, Florida’s public waters alligator program has evolved from a commercial harvest to a fair chase sport hunt. Two tags are issued on each permit (resident $272/ nonresident $1,020) with more than 4,000 permits available for hunters age 18 or older. Each hunter may have assistants who possess a $50 agent’s license (there is no age limit for assistants). The application period for the random drawing is June 1-15. Permits will be drawn by June 18 with payment due before June 30.
There are many Alligator Management Units across the state, composed of either defined wetlands or by countywide permit. One is assigned to each selected hunter. It’s strongly advised to research the AMUs before you select one, as terrain and hunting methods vary greatly across the state. Training seminars are not mandatory but are strongly suggested as the rules are numerous. You may also want to consider hiring a knowledgeable U.S. Coast Guard-licensed guide to assist you in successfully chasing and harvesting your gator; both for safety and knowledge of the numerous regulations.
The season starts at one hour before sunset on August 15 and continues until one hour after sunrise on November 1. Legal hours are one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise each day. Minimum harvest size is 18 inches. Average harvest size is 8.5 feet, with a successful harvest rate of 70 percent of tags issued. Baiting is legal but the bait must be secured to a line via a 2-inch wooden peg. Further, the bait line must either be attended by the hunter with line in hand or tied off to the boat. Fishing lures are also legal. A private lands program is available for suitable land holders.
State record: 14' 5/8" Lake Monroe
Mississippi: visit http://www.mdwfp.com/Level2/Wildlife/Game/Alligator/
2009 will be Mississippi’s fifth public season. Many records fell during the 2008 season as Mississippians have become astute gator hunters. The rules for 2009 should be finalized by June but no changes are expected from 2008. The open areas are the Pearl River/Ross Barnett Zone near Jackson, and the Pascagoula River Zone in the southern part of the state.
Mississippi residents 16 years or older may apply for an estimated 240 permits, which allow for the harvest of two gators over 4 feet, with one gator allowed to exceed 7 feet. An alligator hunting license ($25) and an alligator possession permit ($100), plus a Mississippi hunting license are required. Training seminars are mandatory. Hunting assistants over 16 years of age must possess an alligator-hunting license and a Mississippi all-game license. (Assistants may be nonresidents) No baiting. Private lands tags are available for landowners.
Application for the random drawing is July 1-15 and the application fee is $5. Legal hunting hours are 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily. The tentative season is the weekends of September 11-12, 18-19, 25-26 and October 2-3.
State record: 13' 6 ˝", 633 lbs., Pascagoula River
South Carolina: visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/alligator/
In 2008, South Carolina conducted its first modern public access alligator harvest. The lower half of the state has four harvest zones, with Zones 2 and 3 producing exceptional results. Nearly 800 tags were issued with almost 400 tags filled by a 9-foot average. Noteworthy is that 11 alligators over 13 feet long were harvested!
South Carolina has one of the best programs going. They have an abundance of big, dumb gators and reasonable access for all participants. Expect close to 1,000 permits to be available by random drawing for 2009 for hunters 16 years and older. Random drawing fees are $10 per applicant. Priority points are offered for those not selected. Permits are $100 for residents and nonresidents alike and require all persons to possess a state hunting license. Application period is projected to be May 1 to June 15 with selection expected by July 1. Training seminars are not mandatory but strongly suggested. Rules and harvest methods are very similar to Georgia. Season opens September 12 and is open around the clock until October 10. Legal harvest size is 4 feet or greater. No baiting. Private land tags available for landowners.
State record: 13' 7" Lake Marion
Texas: visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/alligator/index.phtml
The Texas program differs from other states as its legal hours are daylight from one half hour before sunrise to sunset. There is a random drawing with a $3 application fee for either residents or nonresidents 8 years or older. Approximately 250 permits will be available. Application period is late June to August 1 with preference points awarded to those not selected. Selected hunters must purchase a gator-hunt permit ($75-$125) and possess a Texas hunting license.
Texas has two areas with different season dates. In the "core counties" of east Texas, the season is September 10-30. In "noncore" areas, the season runs April 1 to June 30. Baited set hook is legal. Predominate method of harvest is archery rigged for gators with a line and float or a hand-held snare. Average size harvested is 8 feet with a success rate around 50 percent. Private land opportunities are available with different rules.
Appreciation goes to Ricky Chastain of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Steve Stiegler of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ricky Flynt of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks and David Hayden of the Alabama Department of Conservation for their assistance with this article. Edited by Chuck Echenique of Rebel Yelp Calls.
Captain Phil Walters is owner of GatorGuides.com and produces RatWorks Gator Hunt Equipment. He has hunted gators professionally under fair chase principals across the South for two decades, has harvested thousands of gators while safely guiding hundreds of clients to their trophies. At one time, his clients possessed 7 of the top 10 alligators in the Safari Club International (SCI) record book. For 2008, Team RatWorks placed 2nd, 4th and 5th in the Central Florida Trophy Hunts “Big Gator Shootout” and harvested the Georgia state record of 13-7. In 2007, GatorGuides.com was presented the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance “Defender of the Heritage” award for hunting heritage education. Recently, Governor Charlie Crist appoint him to Florida’s Boating Advisory Council. In 2009, he guided for the largest gator harvested in Georgia at 13-51/2”.