Pro-staff Contributor: Zach Raulie
Interest in alligators and alligator hunting has increased during the last couple of years. I think this is most likely due to the success of hit TV shows about swamp adventures. But with all of the publicity comes a lot of misinformation. For instance, many people do not know that each state that offers hunting has its own set of rules and some states only have commercial trapping, not recreational hunting.
In Florida, there are 5,700 recreational alligator hunting permits available by lottery drawing each June. The hunting season opens August 15th for four short, one-week seasons. The season reopens from mid-September through November 1st to those who have unfilled tags. Legal hunting times are from 5 pm to 10 am and each permit holder has two gator tags. If you’d like to learn more about hunting regulations in Florida, this link is a great resource.
Here are five “must know” truths about alligator hunting in Florida:
1. It is illegal to use a firearm in Florida.
You must “attach” a line to the gator rather than shooting it without having a way to bring it in. There are a few options for doing this. Typically we use our Stryker crossbow. But in certain areas it is tough to get close enough for a crossbow shot, so we’ll use a weighted snatch hook to “snag” the alligator that has submersed itself. Then we’ll use a harpoon, bow or crossbow shot to attach a line to the gator–enabling us to work the gator to the boat. A bangstick—a four- or five-foot pole that has a power head at the end of it to safely shoot the gator under water–is the best legal way to quickly kill the gator.
2. It is illegal to use any type of baited hook.
Using a baited hook can put the alligator at risk, because it could swallow the hook and injure itself even if it gets away. However, baiting is still useful and can legally be accomplished with a wire leader and a 2″ wooden peg. The alligator will swallow the bait and peg which will become lodged inside the gator allowing the hunter to pull the gator boat-side. Also, if the gator escapes, the wooden peg will not injure the gator like a hook would. Just remember, the end of this line must be attached to a fishing rod or hand held. It cannot be unattended.
3. Each permit is assigned to a designated management unit, body of water or county.
In June, each applicant will submit to enter the lottery for tags in five locations. If the applicant is selected, he or she will be awarded two permits for one location. There is no guarantee that you will get drawn. However, if you’re not successful in the first lottery drawing, any leftover tags will be made available after the first phase drawing on a first come, first served basis. Also, if your buddy gets drawn and you don’t, you can always hunt off of his permit by purchasing an agent tag.
4. Gator hunting requires specialized gear.
Not everyone has an arsenal of snatch hooks, bangsticks and harpoons at their disposal. Do your homework and go with a buddy that has some experience. Maybe consider hiring a guide as your best solution if this is you first gator hunt. I’m a geek for lights and my favorite is the Minimus Headlamp made by Surefire. Most times a high power spotlight will alert a big gator, but a high-quality headlamp with a dimmer can allow you to sneak in inconspicuously for a shot.
5. Safety is priority #1…and common sense never hurts.
A lot can go wrong in a cypress stump laden Florida swamp at night while you’re chasing a predator that could potentially be 13-feet-long with a mouth full of nasty teeth. Cell phone service is not guaranteed and you could be many miles from the nearest boat ramp. So remember to be cautious and pack these things: PFD’s, required by law, go without question. Also, reliable lights and lighting systems will guide you safely in the dark. Finally, a GPS is a great tool when the morning fog or sudden rain storm hinders your sight. Always be prepared for the worst. Hopefully it will be completely unnecessary, but it’s better to be over prepared than caught off-guard.
Be sure to stay tuned as the 2013 gator season is almost upon us! I’ll be writing updates about our gator hunts this year on this blog.
Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida. He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests. You’ll see Zach representing krugerfarms.com and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year. You can contact Zach at email@example.com and find him on Facebook (facebook.com/zraulie).