For about 3,500 Mississippi sportsmen, Friday is the biggest day of their year — opening day of the public waters alligator hunting season. It opens at noon.

Over the next 10 days, they will hit the streams, sloughs, creeks, blue holes, rivers and lakes, mostly at night with bright lights, looking for the reptiles for the 13th season. The season will close at noon on Labor Day (Sept. 4).

Each of the 920 permit holders will be allowed two alligators, both of which must exceed four feet in length and only one of which can exceed seven feet. It’s the giants that excite the most people, including thousands who would never consider participating in the chase.

“No sir, uh-uh, no way,” said Jill Brown of Madison, a 60-something retired teacher who enjoys deer and duck hunting, as well as all kinds of fishing. “Things I go after, they don’t often try to bite me, or kill me. I wouldn’t no more pull a gator beside my boat than I would join those crazies who make a sport of grabbing snakes by hand … or catfish grabbing.

“But, I do look forward to the stories they tell about gator hunting, and reading the thrill of the experience, a lot of which is quite harrowing. That is good enough for me.”

Avid gator hunters have set a bar similar to that of bass fishing. Any largemouth over 10 pounds is considered a monster, a fish of a lifetime. Likewise, any gator over 10 feet is just as revered.

“You get a gator in double figures, meaning over 10, then you’re in for a battle,” said Tommy Clark of Vicksburg. “When we first started, our team would kill the first 10 we got, but now after five years, we’ve increased our standard to 12 or more. Well, I say that now, but if we get down to the final day or two and we haven’t killed a big one, we’d settle for anything in double figures.

“The problem is once you’ve tagged your runt gator (under 7 feet) and then tag your big one, you’re done. My team would much rather fight, catch and release six or seven gators in a week just to enjoy the action. You tag out early, and you’re done.”

To follow stories from some of the gator action, look for reports daily at ms-sportsman.com.