Florida Alligator Hunting

By Tony Judnich

Staff writer

The tools of the trade for Grayson Padrick include a spotlight, harpoon, electrical tape and a device known as a bang stick.

Mr. Padrick co-owns Central Florida Trophy Hunts in Cocoa. In his two decades of hunting experience, he has seen plenty of gnashing teeth and whipping tails of alligators fighting for their lives on the end of a line.

The excitement of such battles never fades for Mr. Padrick, who is gearing up for this year’s statewide alligator hunt.

“Gator hunting is not your average hunting sport,” he said. “You don’t sit in a tree stand and wait for the animal to come to you.”

Gator hunting is always fast-paced, Mr. Padrick said.

“You have a gator on the end of the rope that essentially wants to bite you,” he said. “You have to pull it up to you, and you do it in its element. It’s all done at night, so that adds an element of excitement.”

Many people want to share such thrills: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has sold out of more than 4,700 gator-hunting permits for the statewide hunt, which began Aug. 15 and ends Nov. 1.

Permits were available on a first-come, first-serve basis and most were sold to Florida residents, said FWC spokeswoman Joy Hill.

She said there are about one million alligators in Florida.

“That number is based on the available habitat for them,” she said. “(Gator hunting) is one of our wildlife management tools.”

Each permit costs $62 and a license to use the permit costs $272 for state residents and $1,022 for non-residents.

For an additional fee of $51.50, people can use an alligator-trapping agent or licensed trapper to guide them on the hunt. Such guides also offer specialized hunting packages.

During the statewide hunt, hunters can kill two non-hatchling gators, or those that are greater than about 18 inches long, per permit.

“Most people aren’t worried about the little gators,” Ms. Hill said. “They want to get a gator of some size.”

Hunters can harvest the gators from designated harvest units, such as Lake Poinsett and Lake Hell ‘N Blazes in western Brevard County.

The alligators can be killed by various means, such as with a harpoon, crossbow, bow and arrow, or spear gun. A bang stick, which is a device that discharges a bullet into an alligator’s head, can be used once the gator has been captured.

Hunting is allowed from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise.

Mindy Padrick, Mr. Padrick’s wife and business partner, said she and her husband will guide many hunters during this year’s hunt. During last year’s hunt, the couple guided people on trips that involved the killing of 236 gators, mostly in Brevard County.

Mrs. Padrick said she helped kill about 160 of those gators. The largest – a 12-foot-9-inch alligator from Seminole County’s Lake Jesup – was killed by Mr. Padrick.

“That one took up almost the whole back of the truck bed,” Mrs. Padrick said.

She and her husband begin a gator hunt by flashing a light from an airboat across a body of water, searching for a gator’s eyes that look red at night.

Once a gator is spotted, a harpoon or crossbow is used to shoot the alligator. A rod and wheel with a thick cable and a snatch hook is used to help snag and reel in the thrashing gator.

A bang stick delivers a shot to the gator’s brain and electrical tape is wrapped around its jaw.

Before being hauled on board, the alligator’s spine is cut with a knife to “make sure he is, in fact, dead,” Mr. Padrick said.

Each hunt is a blast, Mrs. Padrick said.

“It’s like a different world out there,” she said of gator territory.

Ms. Hill said besides enjoying the excitement, many people hunt gators for their meat and hides. The meat sells for about $4-$6 per pound.

“Some folks keep the meat and the hides for themselves,” Ms. Hill said. “Others sell it to buyers and others sell the entire alligator to a processing facility. The tail is generally considered the prime piece, but all of the meat is usable.”

A gator’s “white meat has a fine, light-grained texture that many people compare favorably to pork and chicken,” according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Web site, located at www.fl-seafood.com/species/alligator.htm.

“It is kind of like chicken, and the texture is like chicken,” said Terri Tucker, the office manager of Clayton’s Crab Co. in Rockledge.

She said Clayton’s sells frozen gator meat, which comes from various parts of alligators and is very popular in the summertime, when many people are grilling and having picnics.

An alligator’s hide doesn’t go to waste, either. Ms. Hill said the hide can be used for various leather products and novelty items, such as key chains. Some tourist shops sell alligator skulls as souvenirs.

Alligator products in Florida earned net sales of more than $4 million in 2005, the latest statistics available, according to the state Web site.

Mrs. Padrick said many hunters make a head mount or rug mount with the alligator they killed.

“We’ve had people come down just to hunt small gators to make alligator boots,” she said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has sold more than 4,700 permits for the statewide alligator hunt, which began Aug. 15 and ends Nov. 1.

Hunters can kill two gators per permit and can harvest them from designated harvest units. For example, more than 400 permits were sold for hunting gators in Lake Poinsett, and more than 100 were sold for hunting gators in Lake Hell ‘N Blazes. These lakes are in western Brevard County.

The FWC sold 4,406 gator-hunting permits for last year’s hunt, during which 6,419 alligators were killed. The average gator killed measured 8-and-a-half feet long.

The alligators harvested last year included 151 from Lake Hell ‘N Blazes, which connects to the St. Johns River. The average gator taken from this lake last year was 8-feet-1-inch long.

– Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Contact Tony Judnich at (321) 751-5954 or Judnich@hometownnewsol.com.