ORLANDO, Fla. – See ya later, alligators.
Thursday marks the beginning of Florida's statewide alligator harvest, meaning the population of the scaly green reptiles could soon drop by the thousands.
Of course, it's not quite open season, seeing as hunters need a permit before reeling in a catch. Each permit allows for the capture of two gators within the specific zone or county that permit covers. Hunting can only be done from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m., according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Gators smaller than 18 inches from snout to tail cannot be harvested.
News 6 caught up with some gator hunters on Thursday, as they headed out on the water.
Steven Gell said he's been hunting alligators on the St. John's River for about 15 years. On Thursday, he rode in his air boat, alongside his wife, keeping their eyes open for anything moving in the water.
“Some people don’t realize why you gator hunt. Well there is a management. We have to mange the gators. If we didn’t do this, they are going to take over. You’ll hear more stories, you guys, eating the dog or getting in the yard," said Gell.
Gell said that he plans to take out some people who are first time hunters.
“Most people are really scared, think the gators coming in to get us. They are not," said Gell.
Six thousand licensed hunters in Florida will be able to legally harvest alligators.
FWC conducted a random lottery draw for those who applied, allowing for two gators per person.
Grayson Padrick with Central Florida Trophy Hunts said that they charter their boats and equipment. He said Thursday is the start of their busy season.
“For us, it’s pandemonium. We are super busy today," said Padrick. “The way we hunt, it’s not like your traditional hunting. We are in an air boat, it’s loud. We cover a lot of ground, we look for alligators. So the excitement, the wow factor is off the charts.”
Padrick also said FWC will conduct sporadic inspections throughout the state, to make sure anyone hunting gators has a license.
Guns are not allowed to be used but bows, crossbows, harpoons and spears are all permitted. Bang sticks can only be used if the gator is already attached to a restraining line.
Once a gator is killed, the hunter is required to attach a state-issued tag and report the size, sex and other statistics using an alligator harvest report form.
Last year, 8,402 were harvested, 73 of which were caught in Orange County. The average catch was about 8 feet, 2 inches long.
FWC offered the following tips for hunters:
- Wear dark-colored clothes to blend in with the night sky and be careful of how you use your spotlight. Use a dim or filtered light as you approach the gator and move the light on and off the reptile rather than shining it in its eyes the entire time.
- Approach as quietly as you can, using either an electric trolling motor or paddles.
- Large alligators are territorial so if you see one while scouting during the day, it'll likely be in that same area come nightfall.
- Gators with gaps of about four inches or more between their eyes are likely to be adult gators that you'll want to catch. You can also estimate size by knowing that each inch between the bump of its snout and its eye translates to about a foot in length.
- Concentrate your shot on the side of the gator's body, its legs or jowls since those spots are softer and it will be easier for darts, points and hooks to penetrate.
- Use extreme caution when hunting and handling alligators. Be sure to wash your hands with soap or an anti-bacterial solution afterward.
For a complete guide on the state's alligator hunting season, click here.