Prep now for summer hunts.

Johnny White and Alex Debogory of Miami with an 11-foot, 1-inch, Lake Kissimmee gator.

Good alligator hunting later this summer takes preparation and application—this month. It’s time to put in your applications for limited entry and quota hunting permits for alligator hunting sites during the upcoming season, which runs Aug. 15 to Nov. 1. The first phase of the application period begins the first week in May, followed by three other rounds for hunters still chasing permits.

In each of the first three rounds, hunters will list their top choices for location and dates of their preferred hunts and hunts will be awarded on the basis of the lottery drawing. The second application phase is held in the middle of May, also lasting ten days. A third phase drawing is held some time at the start of June, and finally any remaining slots are filled by willing takers in the final, leftover phase. Exact dates for the drawings were expected to be posted by mid April.

In typical years, according to FWC statistics, 10,000 hunters will apply for 5,000 alligator permits. Each permit includes two CITES tags, each of which is good for the taking of an alligator. Even though alligator populations in Florida are considered recovered from critically low populations in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the species is still tracked under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), the international agreement to ensure that trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. For Florida residents, the permit, tags and alligator hunting license costs $272.00, as of last year. For out-of-state residents, the cost was $1,022.00.

Since many hunters don’t get their top choices for locations to hunt, or even any tags, they can team up with a friend for family member who does score a permit by purchasing a trapping agent license. These licenses can also be purchased for $52, regardless of residency, and the license allows a hunter to participate in the hunt with someone who does possess the proper alligator trapping license and permit. Anyone wishing to hunt alligators needs to have one of these two licenses. Youth (ages 15 and younger) are not required to possess an alligator trapping agent license. Hunters with a valid FWC Resident Disability License are exempt from the cost of an Alligator Trapping Agent License, but must obtain the license at no cost to assist a permitted hunter.

“Since drawing an alligator permit is a lottery system there is no real key to getting one other than diligently applying in Phase I and II,” says Trey Wheeler, a devoted gator hunter who works at Florida Sportsman in ad sales. “One suggestion would be to look at the areas you’re interested in and find out how many tags are available per area. The more tags there are, the better your chances, of course,” Wheeler says. “In the past five years I’ve applied every year and I’ve not pulled a tag in two years.

“I’ve only been drawn twice though out of those five years. Only one of those two was for my first choice area and dates. I rarely deal with Phase III and the leftovers because it’s not likely that tags I’m interested in will be available that late in the game.”

While the alligator hunt program is successful and considered a model for conservation and sport, in a 2015 FWC survey to applicants, only 16.4 percent said that they were very satisfied with the 3-phase process. Meanwhile, 20.2 percent responded that they were very dissatisfied.

“But it’s a lottery,” says Florida Sportsman’s Wheeler. “How can you really be dissatisfied with it? I will say that this year I’ll probably just focus on trying to get a county-wide permit for my home county. I’ve been on multi-night hunts on the big lakes over the last few years and I’m ready for a break from that.”

Permit application procedures and forms are available on myfwc.com, as is extensive information about hunt results in recent years from hunter surveys.

All residents and visitors to Florida, hunters or not, should be aware that as temperatures rise in the spring, alligators become more active. Males become more aggressive during the spring mating season, and females are highly protective of their young. Keep alert to the possibility of alligators in any fresh water or brackish body of water in the state, and be aware that alligators hunt and feed more aggressively at dusk, through the night and at dawn. Times of drought can force alligators to go on the move for food, and they are known to hunt along canal banks and even on paths around canals. Owners should stay vigilant for their pets, especially when they’re off-leash, as alligators are far more liable to attack smaller prey. Finally, never feed alligators. It’s illegal and encourages the alligator to associate humans with food—a highly dangerous scenario no one wants. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2017

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