Gator hunts could get longer hours

TALLAHASSEE — Alligator hunting could become a 24/7 endeavor under a proposal going before Florida wildlife commissioners.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on March 2 will consider a staff proposal that would expand, at most locations, the daily hours for the next alligator hunting season to 24 from the current 17 — 5 p.m. to 10 a.m.

George Warthen, the commission’s director of hunting and game management, said in a memo that proposed rule changes would “provide greater flexibility and opportunity for participants in the statewide alligator harvest program.”

The hours have gradually expanded since the harvest began in 1988, when people holding alligator trapping licenses and harvest permits were allowed to hunt from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise.

A staff presentation for the upcoming commission meeting at the Tampa Convention Center said the extra hours would eliminate concerns about being unable to bring in hooked alligators before the 10 a.m. cutoff. The extra hours would provide hunters more flexibility in scheduling trips and be more accommodating for young and senior hunters who might be more comfortable hunting during the day, according to the commission staff.

Feedback from more than 7,000 people through workshops, webinars and surveys was largely supportive, according to the commission. But concerns were raised, in part, that the 24-hour proposal would conflict with other outdoor activities, such as bass fishing and duck hunting.

“Staff evaluated these concerns and believe they can be mitigated with additional planning and outreach,” the staff presentation said. “Currently, we remind all alligator hunters to be courteous of one another and share space while minimizing negative impacts to other users and residents on the water.”

Also, staff members are asking to allow hunters to use pre-charged pneumatic airbows with tethered lines.

“A common misconception about this proposed rule change is that it could be used to kill an alligator; rather, the alligator hunter would only be using the airbow to initially secure a line to the animal to safely gain control of it,” the staff presentation said.

The state already allows a number of methods involving tethered lines, including crossbows, bows, snatch hooks and harpoons. Airbows, devices charged with an external high compression source to propel arrows, were not commercially available the last time the state updated its alligator harvest methods, the presentation said.

The proposals aren’t expected to be finalized until the commission meets in May.

The hunting season, which runs from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1, is part of the commission’s approach to managing the estimated 1.3 million alligators in Florida.