Gator hunting applications booming, thanks to reality TV.

Florida officials say reality TV is making everyone feel like they’re ready to go gator-hunting, but despite a record number of people applying for permits, only 5,000 will get one.  By Amanda Evans, Reporter

Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 4:32 PM

COCOA — Why are applications to get a permit for this year’s Florida gator-hunting season at an all-time high? Thank reality TV.

Officials say shows like Animal Planet’s “Gator Boys” and the History Channel’s “Swamp People” are making everyone feel like they’re ready for the swamps.

“Since the reality TV shows have gotten more popular, we see a whole lot more people who want to do this,” said Grayson Padrick, with Central Florida Trophy Hunts, in Brevard County.

Padrick said he has been hunting alligators for 14 years, and he knows it’s a skill — and not always like what you might see on TV.

For example, in Florida, it’s illegal to just go jumping on the back of a gator.

“It’s too dangerous. It’s too stupid,” said Padrick. “It’s just an unsafe way to try and capture an alligator.”

John Scott had never hunted a day in his life before he decided to give it a try last year. Now, he says he’ll be back to do it again.

“It’s like catching a 700-pound bass,” said Scott, who got the courage to jump in when he saw people doing it on TV.

“It sounded like fun,” Scott added. “It was a thrill, kind of one of those ‘bucket list’ kind of things. And once you do it once, you want to do it again.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said they are OK with the new interest. Nearly 16,000 people have put in to try and get a permit for this year. That’s up more than 5,000 from four years ago.

This year’s application window has ended, but not everyone who applied will get a permit. Those are limited to 5,000.

“Obviously, there are a lot of these reality shows that are going on, and perhaps people see them and think, ‘Oh, man, this is something I’d like to do,'” said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joy Hill. “We’re happy about that, that they do it legally and apply for the hunts, and not just go out and try and do it themselves.”

For first-time hunters, it’s all about the thrill of the chase. But they need to remember: Once you get that gator, you’ll need to figure out what to do next.

“They turn it into leather products. Some people mount them,” said Padrick. “They’re taking it to all their buddies and having a big alligator fry.”

Padrick and his family take people on hunts on private property, but also hope to get their permit for the public hunt.But catching gators will always just be what longtime hunters like Padrick live for, whether or not it’s popular.