Alabama sportsmen set to battle dinosaurs.
On Aug. 16, 2014, Mandy Stokes from Thomaston, Ala. killed an alligator officially measuring 15 feet, 9 inches long and weighing 1,011.5 pounds, according to the Safari Club International scorer. Hunting with her husband John, brother-in-law Kevin Jenkins and his teen children Savannah and Parker, the crew caught the prehistoric beast in Mill Creek, which flows into the Alabama River above the William Dannelly/Millers Ferry Lock and Dam.
E. A. McIlhenny of the Tabasco pepper sauce fame claimed to have killed a 19-foot, 2-inch alligator on Marsh Island, Louisiana in the 1890s, but that length remains in dispute. The largest Florida alligator on record measured 17 feet, 5 inches long.
However, Stokes’ giant reptile not only took the top spot as the biggest Alabama gator bagged in modern times, but set a new official world record as recognized by the SCI. The previous SCI world record measured 14 feet, 8 inches long, a monster that came from Texas in 2007. The Stokes gator eclipsed the former Alabama record, a 14-foot, 2-inch, 838-pound specimen killed by Keith Fancher and his crew in 2011.
Alabama sportsmen will have an opportunity to break that record this year when alligator hunting seasons open in four zones. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will issue a total of 260 Alligator Possession Tags to be used during the 2017 alligator hunting season.
A total of 150 tags will be given away for the Southwest Alabama Zone with 50 to be issued for the West Central Alabama Zone. The season in both zones runs from 8 p.m. Aug. 10 until 6 a.m. Aug. 13 and again from 8 p.m. Aug. 17 until 6 a.m. Aug. 20.
Hunters in the Southeast Alabama Zone will receive 40 tags and may hunt from 8 p.m. Aug. 12 until 6 a.m. Sept. 4. The Lake Eufaula Zone will have 20 tags with a season lasting from sunset Aug. 18 until sunrise Oct. 2.
The Southwest Zone includes most of Baldwin and Mobile counties including the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, and parts of Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties. The Southeast Zone includes most of Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties. The West Central Zone includes parts of Monroe, Wilcox and Dallas counties. People may also hunt on the Lake Eufaula Zone on the Alabama-Georgia line, excluding Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge. For specific zone boundaries and more information, see www.outdooralabama.com/alligator-hunting-season-alabama.
“The habitat at Eufaula is more closely related to what you would find in the West Central zone along the Alabama River,” explained Chris Nix with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Spanish Fort. “The habitat in the delta is unique to our state. It’s kind of a snapshot of what you would find on a large scale in Louisiana. That’s why you find so many alligators in the delta. The habitat is conducive to the survival and reproduction of alligators. The West Central and Southeast zones are riverine habitat, while the Southwest zone is marsh habitat, which is more conducive to a higher population of alligators.”
Get a permit
Only people with state-issued permits may hunt in their designated zones. Even with permits, people can’t just shoot alligators on sight or capture them on set lines with hooks like in other states. They must hunt only during designated hours and follow specific methods.
“Alligators must be captured and brought adjacent to the boat, bank or dock prior to shooting or otherwise dispatching the animal,” Nix explained. “It is unlawful to shoot at or kill an unrestrained alligator in Alabama. Restrained is defined as an alligator that has a noose or snare secured around its neck or leg in a manner that the alligator is controlled. Capture methods are restricted to hand-held snares, snatch hooks, either hand-held or on a rod and reel, harpoons with attached line and bowfishing equipment. Alligator hunters cannot use bait.”
“People in many parts of Alabama routinely see alligators today, but just a few decades ago, they nearly disappeared from the state and the rest of North America.”
People in many parts of Alabama routinely see alligators today, but just a few decades ago, they nearly disappeared from the state and the rest of North America. Set the clock back to the 16th century. When the Spanish explorers first began to trek across Florida and into North America about 500 years ago, they discovered “dragons.” They dubbed these giant hard-to-kill toothy reptiles, “El Lagarto,” or “the lizard.” Over the centuries, English-speaking people turned the Spanish phrase into “alligator,” known to scientists as “Alligator mississippiensis.”
Since the earliest days of European colonization, most people considered the ancient toothy beasts nothing more than dangerous vermin worthy of eradication as quickly as possible. Alligators occasionally bite or even kill humans, but generally act timid toward people. However, they do readily eat dogs, cats, small livestock that venture too close to the water and anything else they can grab.
Early eradication efforts nearly succeeded. Fortunately, the prehistoric lizards escaped extinction because they typically live in swampy places largely inaccessible to most people years ago. The alligator population remained relatively stable until the early 20th century. After World War I, though, products made from alligator leather became chic and more people took to the swamps to make their fortunes. By the 1920s, gasoline-powered outboard motors began to grow in popularity. Armed with modern firearms, more powerful motors and larger boats, hunters could venture farther into remote wetlands to meet a rising demand for alligator leather and successfully bag the reptiles with little regulation.
Making a comeback
With alligator numbers plunging, Alabama banned gator hunting in 1938, the first state to pass laws protecting the remnant population. In 1967, the federal government placed alligators on the Endangered Species List, giving them national protection. Protected by state and federal laws, the big reptiles made a remarkable comeback in the past 50 years and began to repopulate many areas in their historic range.
By 1972, Louisiana opened a very limited 13-day season in the extreme southwestern part of the state. By 1979, alligators recovered to the point that the state permitted harvests in all coastal parishes. In September 1981, the entire state opened to alligator harvests.
By the mid-1980s, alligators repopulated so much of their original range across the southern United States that they became pests in some areas and other states began opening hunting seasons. In 1987, the federal government removed alligators from the Endangered Species List, but the beasts remained protected or highly regulated.
In 2006, Alabama opened its first alligator season in nearly 70 years. During the initial season, 46 hunters including five women bagged 40 gators. The reptiles ranged in size from 7 feet, 7 inches to 12 feet, 4 inches. The biggest one weighed 461 pounds.
Today, alligators are very common in southern Alabama. They range as far north as Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River and Montgomery on the Alabama River, but sometimes appear almost anywhere in the state with swampy habitat, rivers or lakes. They occasionally appear in Tennessee and as far north as extreme southeastern Missouri along the Mississippi River.
For more information about alligator hunting in Alabama, contact Nix at 251-626-5474.