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Hunting With an Airboat - Gator Bites

Posted in Features on March 20, 2014
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Photographers: Matt Cates

We’ve all seen the TV shows that follow a few guys around the swamp searching for alligators, right? Usually they’re trying to catch or kill a gator due to overpopulation or when one of the critters becomes a threat and winds up in someone’s pool. These giant reptiles are without a doubt the top predator in their environment, but when they get too close to humans, they quickly become the hunted.

Gators have been part of Florida for thousands, if not millions, of years. Records of commercial harvesting in Florida can date back to the late 1800s. In the mid-1970s, biologists conducted alligator population surveys that reveled a rapid growth in their population. The American Alligator can be found in many southeastern states and number in the millions for each state—in reality, with controlled harvest and management there’s no chance of endangering the species. According to the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), between 4,000 and 5,000 nuisance alligator complaints are filed annually and something drastic needed to be done. So in 1977, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the status of Florida alligators from endangered to threatened. The change in status allowed the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program to be implemented, which allows the hunting of alligators greater than 18 inches in total length. Every hunter is required to get a permit, which allows him or her to kill two gators per harvest. In 2012, the FWC recorded 6,709 captured Gators with an average size of 8 feet 3½ inches.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission, the acceptable way to hunt gators is: “Alligators may be taken only by the use of artificial lures or baited, wooden pegs less than two (2) inches in length attached to a handheld restraining line and handheld snares, harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, and manually operated spears, spear guns, crossbows and bows with projectiles attached to a restraining line. The use of baited hooks, gig equipped bang sticks, or firearms for taking alligators is prohibited except that bang sticks a permitted for taking alligators attached to a restraining line.”

We’re sure all these statistics and facts are extremely interesting to certain people out there, but I bet if you ask most of the guys out in the woods, they hunt not only for the thrill of it but also because gators are big tasty lizards with skin that can be used for many things. Every single alligator caught has to be recorded and processed. Hunters are not allowed to catch and release any alligator for any reason.

All of the meat from an alligator is edible, including the tail, legs, ribs, backstraps, and flanks. Once the gator is caught, killed, and packed with ice, most avid hunters will drop the carcass off with a meat processor like Big Ed’s Butcher Shop in West Palm Beach, Florida. An 8-foot gator can usually render 25-40 pounds of meat, and Ed’s Butcher Shop will even season the meat on request. After a few days at Ed’s shop, the meat is packaged and ready to cook. The most common way to cook gator is by chopping and deep-frying the tail. Seasoned correctly and alongside a tall glass of sweet iced tea, gator tail can be an incredibly delicious meal. Nearly every vendor at most major off-road events in Florida serves gator, and we’ve eaten our share.

Gator hunting can be done day or night ; nighttime is usually preferred. At night a gator’s eyes reflect light so it’s easy to spot them with a flashlight. Daytime is better for photos, but the gators can see the hunters and are skittish.

We wanted to experience a gator hunt firsthand, so we called up a good buddy, Matt Cates, at Triple M Outfitters to see if he had some available tags. These tags, or CITES, are assigned to licensed alligator trappers that are contracted by the FWC. Each tag is issued based on overpopulation, and they must be inserted into the tail before transporting the animal. Matt Cates from Triple M informed us that he has permits, so we packed up our gear and headed out to Palm Bay, Florida, for our first gator hunt and the experience of a lifetime.

Triple M Outfitters offers professionally guided hunts for all kinds of wildlife like wild boar, gator, Florida deer, Mid-Western deer, and Osceola Turkey. They have many years of experience under their belt, and they own private land for hunts in Florida, Kansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Once we arrived at their hunting location we knew we had picked the right crew. Their equipment is clean and well maintained, the location is easy to find, and the licensed trackers are friendly and knowledgeable. After a few safety tips and rules were addressed, we climbed onto the airboat and strapped in. Time to go hunting!

PhotosView Slideshow

Special Tanks to:
Big Ed’s Butcher Shop

Florida Wildlife Commission

Triple M Outfitters

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