By DAVID RAINER
The 2010 alligator season could be tagged as the year of the trophy gator with 700-pound-plus gators taken in both southeast and southwest Alabama.
The largest gator taken since Alabama’s season started in 2006 was captured this year in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta – a 742-pounder that measured 13 feet, 4 inches. In the southeastern area of the state, a 683-pound gator that measured 13-1 was taken, as well as a 720-pounder that measured 12-11.
Richard Tharp, wildlife biologist in District IV, is still receiving information on gators taken during the expanded 17-day season that encompassed eight counties – Barbour, Dale, Coffee, Covington, Houston, Henry, Russell and Geneva. With a couple of days left before the reporting deadline, Tharp said he expects the final take to be about 35 gators.
“Since we do not have a check station like they do in the Delta, the hunters are sending in data that they’re measuring themselves,” Tharp said. “We tried that for the first time last year and it worked well.”
Tharp said there were numerous large alligators among the take, including several longer than 12 feet and a couple topping 13 feet. One of the gators was verified at 13 feet, 1 inch and weighed 683 pounds. Another gator was measured at 12-11 and weighed 720.
“Big is a relative term,” he said. “I think a 10-footer is big. From what we’ve seen so far is a pretty good percentage of large alligators, but we have the whole spectrum from just making the cut (6 feet) to very large ones.
“We’re pulling people from all over the state and most of them hunt on Lake Eufaula. If you don’t know somebody in one of these counties with a place to hunt gators, then the lake is your main option. We did have some other public waters open – Pea River, Choctawhatchee River, Gantt Lake and Conecuh River. There were a few gators taken in those places. But Lake Eufaula is taking the bulk of the hunting pressure.”
Tharp said Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will continue to make information available on those other locations to help people understand the opportunities throughout the open area.
“If there is a mechanism to get people out into the counties and find a landowner who has a nuisance gator or gator they want out of a pond or swamp, that would be great,” he said.
Mike Gifford of Eufaula guided the trip that netted the 13-1 gator, which came from one of the areas that was added for the 2010 season. He and his clients from Decatur also witnessed part of the fight that led to the 12-11 gator’s capture.
“I did it in Florida for years and years, since they started their gator season in 1988,” Gifford said. “I’m semi-retired and live in Eufaula and the gator hunting is a fun thing for me to do on the side.
“I knew these big gators were up in the River Bend area this year. We got a treble hook in him on rod and reel. And I made sure we had the harpoon and snare ready. When we hooked up I thought it would probably be the largest one taken from Lake Eufaula. The first year I skinned the record at 12-7, and I figured this one was 13 feet. We got plenty of lines in it to make sure it didn’t get away. The guys with me were very excited, but they never knew they would harvest a gator that size.”
Gifford said that although the gators hadn’t been hunted previously, it didn’t take long for them to become wary of human activity.
“I’ve done this all my life and it was tough, real tough,” he said. “The thing is you always have to be prepared. I’ve got tons and tons of gear in my boat. You never know what to expect. Some people think you can go out there and find a gator in five minutes. To take a gator like that took some doing. And the night we got our gator, we trolled past these other guys that were actually hooked up with the gator that weighed 720 pounds. That was the night of the big gators.”
Speaking of big gators, during the two-weekend Mobile-Tensaw Delta season, a 742-pounder was weighed in.
Chuck Sharp, supervising biologist in District V in southwest Alabama, said 80 of the 125 tags were filled during the season, including the 742-pounder.
There were some reports that big gator was not subdued properly before the hunters attempted to dispatch it. Sharp said the rules are there for a reason.
“They are required to have the animal next to the boat and secured with a snare or rope around the neck or leg before the animal can be dispatched,” Sharp said. “That does two things. No. 1, it keeps people from shooting across the water to incapacitate the animal and possibly wound it and lose it. Also, if you don’t have it secured, once you attempt to dispatch it, it could thrash around and get loose and sink in deep water. Then you would lose the animal.
“The methods of dispatch are designed to be lethal at close range but not be able to shoot at any distance and still be lethal. Obviously, a bang stick can’t be used unless there is contact. And the shotgun has to be used with No. 4 shot or smaller. At point-blank range it’s like a slug. At any distance, it starts to lose its energy pretty quickly. The design is not to be able to shoot out across the water. All of these regulations are designed for safety and the protection of the resource.”
Sharp said the 80-gator harvest for the 2010 season was on par with the 2009 season.
“We have several people who pass up numerous alligators trying to get a bigger one and wind up not taking one for whatever reason – by choice or they don’t get another opportunity,” he said. “We took a good number of gators in the 11- and 12-foot range, as well as the 13-footer. Most of the animals we take are the bigger males.”
Sharp also said there has been some discussion about another expansion of the hunting area in southwest Alabama that might take in areas where nuisance calls are common.
“We’re looking at opportunities to expand into other areas, just like southeast Alabama has,” he said. “This could give hunters an opportunity to take some of the nuisance gators.”
Although media coverage has waned somewhat since the gator season was implemented, Sharp said the hunters’ enthusiasm has not followed suit.
“They’re still as pumped up as they ever were,” he said. “Even the guys who have been able to draw tags more than once are still as fired up about it as they were for their first hunt.”
PHOTO: Michael Carter opens the monstrous jaws of the alligator taken in the River Bend area above Lake Eufaula recently as his son, also Michael, watches. The gator measured 13 feet, 1 inch and weighed 683 pounds.