By Jim TURNER
TALLAHASSEE — A limited number of alligator hunters could get special permits that would expand where they can hunt, under a proposal that state wildlife officials are considering.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at a Dec. 5 meeting in Orlando will take up a proposal that would lead to a random draw for five special-use permits that would give alligator hunters “greater flexibility” next season.
Under current rules, hunters are restricted during the season to a single area — known as an alligator management unit — and can only hunt during one of the first four weeks of the season.
The proposed change would let five people hunt throughout the season in any management unit, on public wetlands where access is allowed or on private land. “The proposed rule amendments are part of a programmatic review of the Alligator Management Program intended to provide greater flexibility and opportunity for alligator hunters,” commission Hunting and Game Management Director George Warthen wrote in a summary.
The management units are established each year. A trapping license, harvest permit and two alligator hide validation tags allow people 18 and older to kill up to two alligators during the season, which runs from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1.
The proposal would allow people to submit an unlimited number of applications for chances at one of the five special-use permits. Each application would cost $5. A $250 fee would also be required from Floridians who receive the special-use permits. Non-Floridians would have to pay a fee of $750. Hunters selected for the special permits would still be limited to two alligators.
The proposal expands on a 2021 directive from the commission to increase opportunities for alligator hunters.
In 2022, the commission extended what had largely been night and early morning hunting — between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. — to 24 hours during the season.
The change was intended to help hunters better schedule trips and potentially allow more young and senior hunters to participate.
At the time, concerns were raised, in part, that the 24-hour proposal would conflict with other outdoor activities, such as bass fishing and duck hunting and about a potential for meat spoiling from alligators harvested during the hottest part of the day. Commissioners also agreed to allow alligator hunters to use pre-charged pneumatic airbows with tethered lines.
Florida has an estimated 1.3 million alligators according to the commission.
With 14,756 tags issued in 2022 for the statewide harvest, 7,867 alligators were killed, according to commission statistics. The total was down from 7,955 in 2021.
An additional 2,752 alligators were killed in harvests on private land last year, up from 1,866 in 2021. Another 8,256 alligators were killed in nuisance situations, up from 8,178 in 2021.