Georgia Plans For First Gator Hunt In 2003

Limited permits will be available for alligator hunting at Eufaula, Seminole, Grand Bay WMA and the Georgia coast.

GON Staff | May 1, 2002

At long last, sport hunting for alligators in Georgia is on the horizon. The Georgia DNR Board of Natural Resources was briefed at its March meeting about plans by the state to open an alligator season in September of 2003. The proposed gator season will offer limited quota hunts on four specific south Georgia areas, and the hunting methods will ensure an up-close and personal, “hands-on” experience with these toothy reptiles.

“Limited hunting is the best way to manage the resource,” Greg Waters, the WRD alligator-program biologist, told the Board. “Interest in hunting alligators is increasing, and opening a season will give hunters an opportunity to take advantage of the resource.”

Florida is among the states that allow sport hunting of gators, and they receive two to four times as many applications as they have permits available. Greg expects the interest to be even higher in Georgia.

The proposed plan offers five alligator-hunting areas in south Georgia made up of 13 counties and one WMA. The proposed hunting areas are:

• Clay and Quitman counties around Lake Eufaula.

• Seminole and Decatur counties around Lake Seminole.

• Grand Bay WMA in Lowndes County.

• Chatham, Bryan and Liberty counties on the coast.

• Long, McIntosh, Wayne, Glynn, Brantley and Camden counties on the coast.

Georgia’s alligator population in 2002 is estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000 animals. The state will issue 200 hunting permits for the inaugural gator hunt in 2003.

Any public water in these areas will be open to gator hunting. Gators on private land can be hunted only after obtaining the landowner’s permission.

Each hunt area will have a specified quota based on gator population and historical nuisance-gator problems. Tentatively, 10 permits each would be issued for Lake Eufaula and Grand Bay WMA; 50-60 permits would be issued for the Lake Seminole area, and 120 permits would be allowed for the combined coastal counties.

The application process for the quota hunts would be almost exactly like the process for the quota WMA deer hunts. Hunters would send in an application designating their preferences for an area to hunt. Hunters would then be selected by a random, computer drawing.

The application process would not include a rejection-notice system for alligator quota hunts. Instead of a priority system, hunters would be drawn at random each year.

Hunters selected for one of the hunts will be required to purchase an alligator hunting license for $50. Anyone participating in the hunt with the permit holder would also be required to purchase a gator license.

Hunters selected for the hunt will receive a WRD tag for their gator. Hunters would be required to  provide information to the state about the weight, length and location where the gator was killed. A second Fish & Wildlife Service tag (CITES tag) would also be required before the hide could be processed.

According to Greg, the season will likely be scheduled for the last two weeks of September each year when most of the alligator nesting season is over. Hunters will be notified by July each year and will have an opportunity to attend one of several voluntary training courses offered by WRD.

There are specific plans for legal harvest methods to ensure that hunters do not lose gators.

“We are not talking about the kind of hunting where a person shoots a high-powered rifle across a body of water, then fishes around for the gator,” Greg told the DNR Natural Resources Board. “There is the danger of ricochets and the loss of the resource.”

Shot gators sink quickly, making shot gators difficult or impossible to recover.

“This will be a hands-on experience where the hunter will have to use some method to attach a restraining line to the alligator,” said Greg. “This includes harpoons, gigs, a bow and arrow with a fish-type tip, a snatch-hook that is used to cast across the gator and hook it; or a hand-held rope or snare. No baited hooks will be allowed.”

Once the gator is secured by a line, the hunter can dispatch it with a bang stick,  a .22 handgun or a hatchet (to sever the spinal cord).

“Some states allow harvest of gators as small as 18 inches,” said Greg. “Georgia hunters will be allowed to take one gator that must measure more than 4 feet in length.”

Once the gator has been dispatched and properly tagged, the hunter will be allowed to use the meat and hide. The meat is considered a delicacy. Greg expects most hunters to consume the meat and keep the hide. “You can get a 7-foot hide tanned for around $100,” said Greg.

Greg also expects most hunters to target bigger gators. Allowing hunters to remove gators in the 4-foot to 12-foot length will provide additional hunting opportunity without damaging the resource — and it will remove bigger gators that tend to make lake-front landowners edgy.

Alligators were considered threatened in the 1960s due to poaching for their hides. Under protection, populations in Southeastern states have rebounded. Today, Georgia’s alligator population is estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000 animals. By comparison, Florida’s gator population is estimated at 1 million; South Carolina has about 100,000 alligators. Gator habitat in Georgia is anywhere south of a line from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, with the biggest concentrations in coastal counties and the counties that border Florida.

According to Greg, there have been at least eight incidents of gators biting people in Georgia. All the injuries were minor. In Florida, where gator numbers and people numbers are both much higher, at least seven human fatalities have been recorded.

Sport hunting of gators is already legal in four states: South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Alabama and Mississippi do not allow hunting, but have nuisance-gator trapping programs in place.

Since 1989, the only legal method of taking an alligator in Georgia is the trapper/agent program. If a landowner has a problem with a gator taking livestock or is otherwise perceived as a threat, a WRD biologist assesses the situation. If they decide that the gator presents a threat, one of 15 contracted trappers scattered across Georgia’s alligator country is issued a permit to take a specific gator or gators. These trappers have been taking about 450 gators a year — often some of the biggest gators around. The trapper program will continue and these men, who have the experience and equipment, may be available to guide hunters during the hunting season for what should be Georgia’s newest game animal.

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