It’s the start of Mississippi’s public water alligator season, and throughout the state, thousands of hunters are putting the final touches on preparations for the pursuit.

* Huge 10/0, 12/0- and even bigger/0 hooks have been sharpened.

* Reels, on stout rods, have been spooled with 100-plus pound braided line.

* Snares are rigged. 

* Batteries charged and lights tested.

* Permits and licenses secured.

The season opens at noon on Friday and continues through noon on Sunday Sept. 9.

“It’s go time; Friday is the day a lot of us live for every year, opening day of alligator season,” Timothy Turner of Jackson said. “I didn’t get drawn but two of our group did so we will get to go on Barnett Reservoir on one permit and in Southwest Mississippi in the other.

“We’ve scouted a bit, but only on the reservoir. We have a good idea where we need to be at noon to get on a gator that has been active during the daytime. We’re going there first to try to get on that 11-footer, and try a few days to get him or another big one we found that is in a pretty open area at night.”

Turner wasn’t volunteering any additional information on The Rez, and reluctant to specifics on the Southwest Zone hunt.

“We’re not worried about that area at all, and there was no need to scout,” he said. “We got a place off the Mississippi River that, unless you know the secret to getting in there, you’d never know it was there. We’ve hunted it four years in the last six years and there’s always a bunch of big lizards back in there. We aren’t going there until after the Labor Day weekend because we don’t want anyone seeing us going in there.

“That’s why we’re going to concentrate our efforts at Barnett to start with. That will be the toughest nut to crack anyway. Once we fill those tags we’ll hit the Mississippi River and hunt there. Last year, we caught and released five gators over 10 feet before finally settling on an 11-footer. We debated taking it because we had a few days left and just wanted to keep hunting.”

Why?

“Well we only get to do this for 10 days a year,” Turner said. “We enjoy the catching and the pursuit far more than the kill, the skinning and the eating. We try to get everyone in the group on a gator during the season, and that’s between 8 or 10 of us. Last year it was 12 because we ended up helping another hunter fill his permit in the West Central Zone.”

State wildlife officials made available 920 permits scattered across seven zones through an online application process and an electronic draw. Each permit owner is allowed two alligators, both of which must exceed four feet in length and only one of which can exceed seven feet. Each permit holder can have as many licensed hunters/assistants as desired but all boats and hunters must be within a “stone’s throw” of the permit holder.

Parties of 10 or more are not uncommon.

“We have two working boats, with gear but only the permit holder’s boat has a gun to dispatch any gators we decide to take,” said Phil Jenkins of Brandon, whose party has two Barnett Reservoir tags. “Then we have a big pontoon boat that follows us, like a spectator boat. They don’t participate and hang back until we hook up. Then they come to watch.

“They keep the food, water and sodas for us, but everyone over 16 has a gator hunting license just in case we get an opportunity to let them play with either a runt or a big one, and they have a light. Last year, the pontoon boat spotted the big gator we eventually took while they were returning to the dock to drop off a few people. They called and we ran down the river to the spot and eventually found him about 100 yards from where they saw it crossing the river.”

Jenkins’ goal for the hunt: “We just want to have a good time.”