Alligator hunting permits are precious in Mississippi, as hard to get as a ticket to Hamilton on Broadway. And, if you are lucky to get a permit, it can be about as expensive in obtaining all the gear needed to battle with the most frightening creature that can be hunted in the Magnolia State.
The public waters season opens at noon on Aug. 25 and continues through to noon on Labor Day (Sept. 4). Only 920 permits were available in the drawing process in June. According to Ricky Flynt, the alligator program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, because of the new system used this year few of them will be wasted.
“In past years, with our first-come, first-serve, one-time drawing, some of the permits would be won but never claimed,” Flynt said. “This year, by having an open application period, followed by a first electronic drawing and then a second drawing for unclaimed permits, I think we’ll see increased use, and less waste of the permits.”
In 2016, for example, only 807 of the 920 permit holders hunted. That means 12 percent of the permits were wasted while so many hunters sat at home wishing they had one.
This year, about 5,000 people applied for the 920 permits, which were scattered over seven regions: 50 in the Northwest; 80 in the Pearl River/Barnett Reservoir zone; 150 each in the Northeast, South Central and Southeast zones, and 170 each in the much sought after West Central and Southwest zones.
Each permit allows the holder to take two alligators, both of which must exceed 4 feet and only one of which that can exceed 7 feet.
“We all talk about how much we want to take an 11 or 12 footer or bigger, but the true art is in getting the right runt gator (4-7 feet),” said Bill Johnson of Jackson, a veteran gator chaser who has never been drawn but has assisted in hunting in 10 seasons. “The ideal runt gator is 6 feet, 11 7/8 inches, but we’ve always set a minimum of 6½ feet. We’ll cull anything under that until the last day or two.
“That’s the rub. If you get a 6-footer on the first day and keep it, that’s what you get. But if you gamble on a bigger runt, you might end up without one at the end of the season.”
As for the big one, most people start looking for anything in double figures in footage — over 10 feet.
“A healthy 10 footer is going to go about 300 pounds or more, so you’re going to have a battle on your hands,” Johnson said. “You start looking at 11 or 12 feet, especially in the West Central, Southwest and Southeast zones, then you’re talking 500 pounds and up. Before taking one that big, you better have the right gear and somebody experienced with you.”
In 2016, the 807 permit holder and their partners — 3,075 alligator hunting licenses, necessary to participate, were sold — killed 784 gators and caught and released alive another 848. Of the 784 removed, 412 were under 7 feet, and 372 over 7 feet.
Those numbers should rise this year, if all goes to plan.