More Mississippians will get the opportunity to hunt alligators on more waters under an expansion plan approved by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks on March 20. A total of 810 permits will be issued, representing a 40 percent increase over 2011.

For the 2012 season, the state will be divided into six regions, and all public waterways, as designated by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, plus 13 public lakes, in open areas will be included in the hunting season. The season will open in all zones, beginning at noon on Sept. 7 and ending at noon on Sept. 17. Each person selected will have the entire period to fill a two-gator permit. “This is the culmination of a plan, starting in 2005, of getting to this framework … to get to broad geographic regions,” said Ricky Flynt, the alligator program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “It's been progressive, sort of a work in progress ... letting the hamster run in the cage to see how it would go and make changes accordingly.” It went extremely well, gaining in popularity every season since 719 people applied for the 50 available permits that first year on Barnett Reservoir. Though public opportunities have been limited to Barnett and later the Pascagoula River, there has been steadily increased interest. “We had 2,858 applicants last year, the most ever, with 480 permits available (240 on each on the Pearl and Pascagoula),” Flynt said. “I would expect we will see a sharp increase in applicants this year, especially in the Delta and in south Mississippi.” The regions include: Northwest — Areas west of Interstate 55 to the Mississippi River, and north of U.S. Highway 82 to the Tennessee Line. West Central — Areas south of U.S. 82, north of Interstate 20 and west of I-55 to the Mississippi River. Southwest — Areas south of I-20 and west of I-55 to the Louisiana border. South Central — South of I-20, east of I-55 and west of U.S. Highway 49 to the Gulf of Mexico. Southeast — Remaining areas south of I-20 and east of U.S. 49 to the Gulf of Mexico. Pearl River/Ross Barnett — legal areas remain unchanged. Barnett is the only open area north of I-20 and east of I-55. “Northeast Mississippi has some small, isolated populations of alligators, and none of those pockets have huntable numbers,” Flynt said. “I’m not saying they never will, but right now will hold off opening that part of the state.” The five largest regions under the new plan will each have 150 permits available by draw. The Pearl River/Ross Barnett zone will have only 60 permits awarded, an obvious downside to the plan. “We have never allowed more than 60 permits at Barnett on any one night, because the area is very limited,” Flynt said. “We felt when we went to the statewide, 10-day season, we had to drop the number of permits on Barnett to ensure we didn’t have over 60 parties on the water. “Any more and we thought it would reduce the quality of the hunting experience, and we expect hunter success rates to increase significantly with a increase to 10 days in the season’s length.” Flynt also said the increased opportunities elsewhere would offset the reduced number on Barnett, where nearly 2,000 people applied for the 240 permits last year. “A lot of those applicants were coming from other areas, like the Delta, because they didn’t have any other options,” he said. The Delta region, from Tennessee to Louisiana, opens the door to some of the best public-waters alligator habitat in the state. The Big Sunflower, Yazoo and Big Black rivers are included, as is Bayou Pierre and scores of oxbow lakes like Eagle, Washington, Chotard, Albermarle, Dump, Tennessee Chute, Bee, Lake George, Little Eagle and others. For the purpose of alligator hunting, open public waters will be those waters in the regions deemed public waterways by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The application period will run June 1-15, and the fee to apply is $10. Hunters can apply only once in each region, but will be allowed to enter drawings in as many — or all — of the six regions as desired. All applications must be made online. Several aspects of the regulations are unchanged. Each permit will allow the harvest of two alligators, both of which must exceed 4 feet and only one of which can exceed 7 feet. No baiting or set hooks will be allowed. Only rod and reel with snatch hooks, bowfishing equipment, harpoons and snarepoles are legal. Alligators must be secured by rope or snare before they can be shot.  There is no mandatory check-in, but electronic (online) harvest reporting will be required. Only Mississippi residents, over the age of 16, can apply. Each successful applicant will be required to purchase a $100 possession permit, and a $25 alligator hunting license will be also be required. Each permit holder can have as many hunting assistants as desired, but unless otherwise exempt, the assistants must have the $25 license. All successful applicants must attend an alligator hunting class before obtaining a possession permit. Classes will be held at three locations at dates and sites to be announced. Those who have attended previous classes are not required to attend one of the scheduled classes. There was also a change in the private lands alligator hunting program, with the addition of the three coastal counties — Hancock, Harrison and Jackson — which brings the total counties open to 28. Visit the alligator page at www.mdwfp.com/alligator for more information on alligator hunting regulations. For a legal description of public waters, visit www.deq.state.ms.us/mdeq.nsf/page/L&W_pub_waterways?OpenDocument.