Georgia celebrates 16 years of alligator hunting this year. But in the late 1960’s, the United States came close to saying, “See ya later, alligator!” to the largest reptile in North America. Now, the American alligator is considered one of the greatest species recovery success stories.

 

Where can you find alligators in Georgia?

Alligators can be found in Georgia along and below the Fall Line, which runs from Columbus through Macon to Augusta. Alligators north of the Fall Line are most often there because of human relocation, and there’s no evidence suggesting reproduction in the northern portions of the state.

 

So, how did we come so close to losing them?

A combination of life history and unregulated hunting in the early 1900s caused the alligator population to drop. Alligators reproduce slowly and don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re about 6 feet long. Not to mention young alligators have to dodge being preyed on by raccoons, birds, and other alligators while growing. By 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had listed them as an endangered species, and alligator hunting was put on hold.

Juvenile American alligator
Juvenile American alligator. Photo credit: Lisa Westberry

 

How is the population in Georgia doing now?

Today, the alligator population is estimated to be 200,000-250,000 individuals and remains very stable. This is a promising change from the 29,954 estimated in 1973 and the 101,644 estimated in 1982. Georgia DNR’s Alligator Management Plan has played an important role in ensuring the long-term conservation of Georgia’s alligator population while providing sustainable harvest and other recreational opportunities.

 

Why did Georgia open an alligator hunting season?

In 1987, the alligator population finally reached sustainable levels again, and their federal protective status was down-listed. This allowed Georgia and other states more flexibility to make decisions on managing the species. Learning from the past, Georgia wildlife professionals knew they would need to be cautious with seasons and opportunities. So, the framework for an alligator season was born. Initially, regulations only allowed the targeted removal of individual nuisance alligators that had become a public threat.

girl with alligator
Twelve year old Paityn Gean and her 11.2 foot Zone 7 alligator.

The new millennium brought along a new idea: an alligator hunting season. In 2001, Georgia held public meetings to gauge public interest in opening a gator hunting season. These meetings provided the foundation for what would eventually become Georgia’s alligator Quota Hunt program. September 2003 marked the first alligator season and 184 quota permits were made available in a drawing. Public response was positive, especially from people who lived in alligator territory. In the first season, 2,560 people applied for those 184 permits.

 

How many people hunt alligators in Georgia?

man with alligator
Colorado resident Doug Crookston with his Georgia alligator.

The 2018 Georgia alligator season saw more than 23,000 applicants compete for a chance at one of the 1,000 available permits. Applicants for these permits came from across the nation, showing Georgia’s Quota Hunt is now considered one of the top alligator hunting opportunities in the country.

 

 

Where can you hunt them?

To prevent over-harvesting, Georgia sets hunt zones. Georgia has ten different zones made up by 98 counties. Each zone is given a firm number of harvest permits each year based on the alligator population in that area.

 

How do I get an alligator hunting permit?

You must first be selected through the Quota Hunt application process. You can apply at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com. Selection in a Quota Hunt will allow you to purchase an Alligator Harvest Permit, which must be held by a member of the alligator hunting party. More information on bag limits, zones, and legal methods of take visit: https://georgiawildlife.com/hunting/alligator. The deadline to apply is July 15.

 

people with alligator
David Howard and hunting party with 11.1 foot Zone 7 alligator.

How many gators are taken each season?

During the 2017 alligator hunting season, hunters harvested 194 alligators with a 19% success rate statewide. Since the first season in 2003, 10,656 permits have been issued, with 3,108 successful harvests (32% success rate). As hoped, nuisance complaints have decreased since the creation of Georgia’s alligator season.

 

How do we know how many gators are in each zone?

Annually in May and June, biologists take to the water and conduct population surveys.

Pre-determined routes are surveyed twice a year. The routes are approximately ten to twelve miles in length. Surveys take place at night by boat since an alligator’s eyes will reflect light, causing the eyes to glow under a spotlight. Biologists and technicians will try to get close enough to accurately estimate the length of an alligator when they spot a pair of eyes. The distance from the space between an alligator’s eyes to the tip of their nose in inches is approximately equal to the total length of the alligator in feet. Observed alligators are grouped into size-classes based on their estimated length. These surveys are critical for monitoring population trends and establishing sustainable harvest quotas.

For more information on alligator hunting in Georgia, visit: https://georgiawildlife.com/hunting/alligator.