FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida has 24-hour restaurants and 24-hour gyms. Why not 24-hour alligator hunting?
The state wildlife commission has proposed adding seven daylight hours to the annual public alligator hunt, which typically takes place at night, making the activity a 24-hour experience.
Many hunters support the idea, since it would give them more options and take away the pressure to finish by 10 a.m., especially if they are on the verge of nabbing a trophy-sized gator.
Some airboat tour operators say daytime hunting could scare away the very animals their clients are most eager to see. Alligator processors, who transform the dead reptiles into useable meat and hides, are not enchanted at the idea of receiving carcasses that have been baking in the sun.
“My biggest concern is people bringing spoiled alligators,” said Grayson Padrick, owner of Central Florida Trophy Hunts, whose Cocoa plant processes about 1,200 alligators a year, one of three processors who expressed concern about the idea. “Currently we see quite a bit of spoilage from the daytime hunting as it is. The skin starts slipping. You can take your hand and wipe them down the alligator and the scales will literally peel off in your hand.”
Alligators, one of the original members of the endangered species list, recovered so robustly that hunting was reopened on them in Florida in 1988. Florida is home to an estimated 1.3 million alligators.
Last year, hunters killed 8,216 alligators in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The average length was about 8 feet, although seven came in at 13 feet or more, and one topped 14 feet. The Florida record is a 14-foot, 3 1/2-inch male taken in Lake Washington in Brevard County.
At a meeting held by the wildlife agency Dec. 2 in Moore Haven, near the western shore of Lake Okeechobee, only three hunters showed up to discuss the proposal. All three supported it.
“I think the 24-hour hunting is a big plus,” said Stephen Greep, a Fort Lauderdale hunting guide.
He said it can be difficult for his clients to fit a nighttime hunt into their schedules and that stormy weather can ruin their plans if hunting is restricted to certain hours.
“We have the afternoon thunderstorms that blow us off the lake at 5 p.m. till 11 o’clock sometimes,” he said. “There’s a lot of time, money and planning that goes into it, taking time off for that week.”
Jim Simon, of Moore Haven, who once got a 13-foot, 4-inch alligator on Lake Okeechobee, said, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to hunt them all day long.”
Alligators have typically been hunted at night, when they are more active and can be found with a spotlight by their red eye shine. Hunters catch them with methods such as harpoons, fishing rods, spearguns and crossbows. Once they catch the alligator, they kill it with a bang stick, a pole that discharges a shotgun shell or high-caliber bullet on contact.
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Alligators are a prime attraction for tourists exploring Florida’s interior, with visitors feeling they have not quite enjoyed the full experience without encountering the state’s most famous reptile.
“My people want to see alligators,” said Capt. Kenny Elkins, of Okeechobee Airboat & Eco Tours, who says his pre-COVID clients came from all over the United States and many foreign countries. “During the hunting season, they get very difficult to see.”
He opposes the extension of hunting hours.
“I don’t understand why they would want to do it,” he said. “To me, the alligators are more important to see than to kill. The alligator is worth more alive than he is dead.”
The state wildlife commission has set up an online information site on the proposal, with opportunities for the public to comment. If the proposal goes through intact, it will go in March for approval by the wildlife commission, a seven-member board appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
More than 80 percent of respondents to an online survey found a 24-hour alligator “very acceptable” or “extremely acceptable,” said Tammy Sapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Brooke Talley, coordinator of the state’s alligator management program, said the extension of hunting hours would provide more flexibility.
“People will have more opportunity within their schedules to get out on the water,” she said. “That’s what we heard people tell us — I want to get out more, I work nights, I can’t get out at night. By allowing hunting during the day, we might be appealing to people who may not be as comfortable hunting at night, maybe the youth hunters. So there’s a lot of benefits to 24-hour hunting.”
- David Fleshler, South Florida Sun Sentinel