“Chootem’ Elizabeth”! The cry for action comes from Louisiana alligator hunter Troy Landry of the reality TV series “Swamp People”. The show is extremely popular and has caused a surge in the number of people who would like to hunt alligators. This article will provide information needed to help you start planning for a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Florida alligator bowhunt.
“Whoa, what the heck do we do now”? The urgent and animated question my hunting partner Jeff asked was actually a pretty good one! Unfortunately, I didn’t have a particularly good answer for him. The scenario that prompted the question involved a couple of excited teenaged boys and a very big and angry bull alligator chomping onto the side of our boat.
Our journey to DIY alligator hunting began many years ago with several years of unsuccessful attempts at getting one of the limited statewide public waters alligator trapping licenses. The number of available licenses is generally between 4,500 to 6,000 and varies from year to year. The licenses are issued for specific alligator management units that have defined boundaries. For exact numbers available and other information be sure to visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission website at http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/harvest/. Each license allows for the harvest of two alligators and cost $272 for residents and $1,022 for non-residents and includes the required two CITES tags. No state hunting license is required. The alligator licenses are issued by random drawing with the application period beginning at the end of April.
The regulations also allow anyone who purchases a $51.50 Trappers Agent License to assist in the harvesting of the two alligators. This includes the actual shooting and harvesting of the alligator. You must be 18 years of age to apply for the license, but there is no minimum age requirement for serving as a Trappers Agent. My youngest successful gator hunter was 10 years old and took a beautiful gator with a 35# longbow.
Florida’s official nickname is the Sunshine State, but it certainly doesn’t apply during the normal alligator hunting season of mid-August to mid-September. You should expect rain every day and be happy when it doesn’t. The hunting season is broken up into 4 separate hunt periods with the first being August 15th – 22nd and the next three on subsequent weeks. There is also another open hunt period beginning September 12th to November 1st for all unsuccessful hunters from the previous 4 hunt periods.
Bowfishing for alligators is a night time affair, with legal hunting hours beginning at 5 PM and ending at 10 AM the next morning. Alligators have exceptionally tough skin and their back is covered in boney scutes, so shooting the heaviest bow and arrow combination you can is recommended.
The technique for hunting alligators involves using a high powered spotlight to see their reflective eyes and then using a trolling motor to quietly get within range for a shot. You can also mouth call them right up to boat by imitating the distress grunt of a baby alligator.
The question of “Whoa, what the heck do we do now” noted above was asked on my very first DIY hunt back in 2008. We were on the 2nd night of the hunt and just a few minutes after dark we spotted a pair of red glowing eyes and began a slow troll toward our prey. As we closed the distance the gator turned and began swimming away. I put the trolling motor in high gear and quickly trolled toward the gator. Trying not to spook the departing gator, I turned the spotlight off and moved closer.
When we got to where we thought the gator would be, I turned the light back on, but he wasn’t there. It only took a split second for my 15 year old son Tyler to catch some motion about 10 yards away. I quickly shined the spotlight and realized it was the same gator. Before I could say ‘shoot’ Tyler had the arrow on the way and struck the gator just behind the head in the neck.
Perfect shot placement. The Chinese fire drill really kicked in then. Tyler did everything perfectly and the detachable float released. The gator didn’t go far and I was able to put some tension on the line right away. He didn’t like that and took off again. After a good 10-15 minutes I was able to start bringing him up to the boat. Tyler and Jeff’s son Daniel were jockeying around with instructions to sink another arrow into the gator as insurance. They both did a great job and within moments the gator was hooked up with several lines. Jeff was in the rear of the boat with a second spotlight and was dancing around like Shirley Temple on a caffeine binge.
Jeff got really nervous when we finally got the gator up next to the boat and it starting chomping on everything and anything it could get a hold of. Most alligator hunters will get the alligator next to the boat and then use a “bang stick” to shoot a .38 caliber bullet into the alligator’s brain. This method didn’t appeal to us as we were bowfishing! In lieu of the bang stick, our initial thought was that we would get the alligator up next to the boat and then shoot some broadheads into him.
The next step however basically involved tiring out the gator, getting a nylon rope around it and then grabbing it by the snout and using black electrical tape to hold the jaws closed. We would then kill it by pithing, a knife blade to the brain. It seemed to be a good plan. The actual implementation of the plan was somewhat thwarted by the gator who wasn’t very fond of the idea. A 10’ bull alligator is not exactly easy to subdue and he can get really angry when you try to grab his snout. A few bites onto my boat, a few broken teeth and a lot of stress to Jeff who was heard repeating “I don’t think that is a good idea”. I even heard him say something under his breath to the effect of “Daniel, get away from that dang fool and NEVER do anything remotely as dumb as what Terry is doing”.
After a good 30-40 minutes we were finally able to get a rope around the gator and get his mouth taped shut. We now had a very LIVE gator with his jaws taped closed. We knew better than to bring him in the boat as his tail is nothing more than a solid mass of muscle that can easily break a leg and transform the boat into a mangled glob of metal. Now, was the time for Tyler to pith his gator. After killing the gator the four of us then grabbed the 200-300 pound bull alligator and hoisted it into the boat.
Since that initial foray into DIY alligator hunting I have returned to Florida each year and have improved on technique, safety and success. On my 2nd trip down I was very fortunate to hunt with a family friend that is also one of the best gator guides in all of Florida and I learned a phenomenal amount from him. If you have the opportunity to hunt with an experienced gator hunter, it will be well worth the time. This year we went four for four on solid gators. My daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and Jeff’s son Daniel all got great alligators. My largest to date is 12’2” and we generally get one over 10’ each year. I’ve compiled a list of hunting information and tips to help you on your quest of DIY alligator hunting.
• The legal methods for taking of Alligator mississippiensis include: baited wooden pegs, harpoons, snatch hooks, snares, crossbows or bows. Our chosen method involves recurve bows or longbows specifically rigged with very stout bowfishing gear.
• Muzzy makes a ‘Gator Kit‘ that works very well. An all in one kit that combines the float and reel into one device. The hand wrap reel is also a roto molded float that features a twist lock design to attach and detach. Pre-loaded with 400lb line and 5/16 fiberglass Gator arrow with point. Backwater Outdoors carries a good selection of alligator hunting gear and owner Bryan Hughes is great to deal with.
• Alligator meat is excellent and you should salvage as much as possible. The meat will spoil very quickly in the warm Florida weather. You must get the alligator on ice almost immediately.
• If successful in obtaining a permit, you will receive many mailings from alligator processors that will skin and process the alligator. Many will buy the hide from you or process it for a fee.
• Alligator European hide mounts make a very unique trophy and will be the talk of your trophy room. The other option is to have it tanned and to make useful everyday items.
• A good sized boat is recommended. I use a 21′ Tracker Grizzly boat with a 115 HP Mercury.
• Much of the hunting time will be while trolling. A good 36 volt trolling motor will keep you powered up for most of the night.
• Personal head lamps allow for safe movement within the boat. Keep them off while hunting as the gators do get light shy.
• Very bright hand held spotlights are used most of the time for searching for the alligators eye shine. Heavy duty marine batteries are needed for the all night excursions. Some experienced alligator hunters equip their boat with a small, quiet generator.
• The very nature of the night hunting experience and the capture and harvest of alligators has the potential of being extremely dangerous and could result in injury.
• Alligators are very powerful and their bite force is one of the highest pounds per inch in the world. They harbor a very infectious bacteria in their mouths that requires immediate and special treatment if you are bitten.
• Electrical tape sticks when wet and is used to tape the alligators mouth closed.
• Skinning the alligator is very similar to skinning of any other animal. If possible, leave the skinning and processing to the professionals.
• While alligator hunting does not require top physical conditioning, it does involve very long hours and you will be beyond tired after a few days of hunting. The better physical condition you are in the more you will enjoy the hunt. This year we found a good sized gator in a location that wouldn’t allow boat access so we left the boat and head across land. We were successful and thus we had to transport the gator back to the boat. Good physical conditioning made this task more manageable.
• Alligator hunting in Florida has the added benefit of being in proximity to many other family friendly activities. It is often pretty easy to convince your spouse that a Florida family vacation with a little gator hunting thrown in is an excellent idea.