Sign up for email updates from Cooperative Farming News

Facebook Twitter Instagram
Home > Current Issue > OUR REGULARS > Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries

Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries


A True Conservation Success Story

By Chuck Sykes, Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

From the brink of extinction to huntable populations, gators in Alabama have experienced it all.

Restoration of the American alligator represents a national conservation success story in which Alabama played a leading role. Unregulated alligator harvest throughout the South in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s threatened the species with extinction. In 1938, Alabama took action and became the first state to protect them. Other states followed our lead and, in 1967, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service placed the American alligator on the Endangered Species List. Two decades of protection enabled the species to rebound. By 1987, it was removed from the Endangered Species List, but was retained as a federally protected species.

By 2005, Alabama’s alligator population had grown to the extent that they were becoming a nuisance in some areas. Therefore, implementing a regulated alligator hunting season on a small scale was an important step toward mitigating human/alligator conflicts and managing this unique reptile.

On Aug. 18, 2006, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries opened the first regulated alligator hunting season in its history. This hunt was seven consecutive nights concluding on Aug. 24 at midnight. Registration for the hunt was performed online through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at www.outdooralabama.com. With 50 alligator harvest tags available, 991 Alabama residents applied.

These 50 hunters were required to attend a mandatory training class prior to being issued a temporary alligator harvest tag. Of the 50 eligible, 46 attended the mandatory class on the day the season began. During the class, hunters were encouraged to consider safety above all. Running around in the Delta during daylight hours is hazardous enough ‒ doing it in the dark can be even more dangerous. In addition to the safety topics, instruction was given on laws and regulations, harvest techniques, dispatching methods and caring for the trophy after harvest. At the end of the class, each hunter was provided an information packet containing a list of regulations and his/her temporary alligator harvest tag that had to be attached to the tail of the alligator as soon as the animal was harvested.

The first alligator to be harvested was taken by a young lady from south Baldwin County within two hours of the opening of the season. This was the first of 40 alligators to be taken during the weeklong hunt, with the last one being brought in just before the midnight closing of the season. The alligators ranged in size from 7-foot-2, 80 pounds to 12-foot-4, 461 pounds. This figures out to be an 87% success rate.

Our goals for this hunt were to have a safe hunt, to perfect our hunting methods and to harvest a few gators. In all respects, this was a successful hunt that laid the foundation for what we have today. Since that time, the number of tags issued and areas hunted have increased (see side bar 1). In addition, the registration process has been refined. At the request of our hunters, WFF instituted a preference point system in 2014 to keep the process as equitable as possible for all who wished to hunt gators. The number of registrants has remained constant at approximately 5,500 each year since 2014. One more major change to the process occurred this year, when tag holders were allowed to complete an online training course instead of physically going to one. All of these modifications to the gator hunting season were instituted to make the entire process easier and fairer for participants.

Now, let’s really get into this whole discussion about fairness. We’ve seen all the Facebook rants and heard all the complaining about the “rigged” system for years. No one, not even me, is guaranteed a tag. What part of a random selection process don’t people understand? With only 260 tags being issued each year and an average of 5,500 people applying for those tags, that’s about a 4.5% chance of receiving one. If you apply each year and accumulate preference points, your chances go up significantly. However, it will still take an average of six to seven years before many will be drawn, but there is still no guarantee (see side bar 2).

So, after looking at the table showing the number of years that individuals have been selected as a tag holder or alternate, it’s obvious that it’s not a rigged system. The overwhelming majority of people have only been selected once. Other than taking the word of our IT section and looking at the overall numbers handed to me each year, how do I know the process isn’t “rigged”? Because, I have been applying for a tag every year since 2014 to test the system. Believe it or not, I pay my money and register for all of the zones each year to test the system. To take it one step further, for the past two years, a group (10) of us has applied, and each year only one in the group has been selected as a tag holder, proving once again that this system is working just fine.

This year was my sixth year to apply and I drew a tag. I debated for several days about what to do. Should I accept or decline the tag? Why shouldn’t I take the tag? I registered each year just like everyone else. I paid the same amount for registration as everyone else. After all, I am a lifelong hunter, so why shouldn’t I enjoy the alligator hunting season just like any other hunter in Alabama? The answer is simple if you think about it. So, I took the online course and accepted my tag.

On Friday night, Aug. 9, nine friends and I (we had two boats) took to the waters of the Alabama River near Camden and within two hours had successfully harvested an alligator. Everyone in each boat had their hunting licenses and a specific task to accomplish, from navigation, to spotlighting, to casting, to comic relief. It was a true social event and combined effort.

Despite what many conspiracy theorists may believe, this had nothing to do with the fact that I am the Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. It did, however, have everything to do with the fact that I am a hunter, and I truly enjoy spending time with my friends in the woods and on the water. None of us will ever forget that night and the memories made along the banks of the Alabama River pursuing a prehistoric creature. Unlike the rest of the crew members who only have photos and memories of the hunt, I can’t wait to get a wallet and belt made to serve as physical reminders of a great night!

Side bar one

2006

Southwest Zone, 50 available tags

2007

Southwest Zone, 100 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 40 available tags

2008 - 2010

Southwest Zone, 125 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 40 available tags

2011

Southwest Zone, 150 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 75 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

2012

Southwest Zone, 150 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 75 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

2013

Southwest Zone, 150 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 75 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

2014

Southwest Zone, 150 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 40 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

(preference point system initiated)

2015-2018

Southwest Zone, 150 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 20 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

Southeast Zone, 40 available tags

2019

Southwest Zone, 100 available tags

Coastal Zone, 50 available tags

Lake Eufaula Zone, 20 available tags

West Central Zone, 50 available tags

Southeast Zone, 40 available tags

Back to
Top
Tickets & Deals