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Alligator (American)

Estimated reading time: 6 min

Today’s popularity of hunting alligators in the swamps and wetlands of the southeastern and south central United States has everything to do with television. The History Channel’s “Swamp People” series began following a group of Louisiana Cajuns who hunt alligators for commercial meat and hides and the rest … as they say … is “history.” Other shows followed, and Regular Joes from around the world recognized the potential for adventure in hunting alligators for the thrill of it.

Any pursuit that puts you out in the deep, dark swamp at night is full of possibility for adventure, but hunting alligators has to be near the top of the heart rate accelerators. Alligators are “cold blooded animals” by every definition of the word. While they seldom single out man as prey, a big gator likely wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to grab a child if the opportunity arose. Cornered, hooked, trapped or wounded, a gator can inflict serious damage to its pursuer in a big hurry.

In reality, alligator hunting has a tradition that goes back generations in states like Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and even Texas. However, different methods of taking gators have evolved in the various locales. Today, you can “hunt” for gators with a rifle, bow and arrow, crossbow or kind of “fish” for them with a .22 LR as a coup de grace which is what the “Swamp People” do.  Most of the hunting methods are employed at night with the aid of spot lights.

Because the opportunities for and traditions of alligator hunting are limited to a small portion of the United States, it’s not a pursuit that many outside hunters have had the chance to try or prepare for. However, with gator hunting’s increasing interest and popularity, more and more outfitters are setting up to handle the demand. is the best place to determine the unbiased satisfaction of alligator outfitters’ previous clients and find your chance to take a monster gator.

Alligator Facts

Alligators are reptiles. That means they are cold-blooded, lay eggs on land that hatch outside the mother’s body, and they have hairless skin with scales or plates covering their bodies. Those facts alone make alligators unique among North American animals pursued by hunters for sport.

Key characteristics of the American Alligator are its cylindrical body; large, triangular head; powerful jaws with many conical teeth; short legs with clawed, webbed toes; and thick, plated skin. Eyes and nostrils are on top of the head and can project above water when the rest of the body is submerged. Under water the nostrils and ears close, a third eyelid protects the eyes. A flap of skin closes off the back of the mouth, allowing the alligator to actually eat under water without drowning. Young alligators are black with yellow bands; adults are uniformly grayish-black with lighter undersides.

The American Alligator is believed to have the strongest bite in the animal kingdom. Research shows that in laboratory conditions, a gator can clamp down with something over a ton of pressure. However, they can not open their jaws with nearly the same force so this is why you’ll see alligator shows and captures in which the jaws of the gator can easily be held shut.

The biggest male (boar) gators reach around 13-15 feet long while a truly large female maxes out at 10 feet.  They can weigh up to 600 pounds, though an average is closer to 200 or so pounds.

Because of their short legs and long body and tail, alligators seem ungainly out of the water, but in reality they are very fast on land or in shallow water, moving in a straight line forward.  This is how they attack prey at the water’s edge. They move into position directly in front of their prey while staying submerged and hidden from sight in the murky water. Then they surface silently, directly in front of their intended target to strike straight forward head-on.

If you should ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to evade an alligator, do not run directly away from it, but at 90-degree angles to the length of the gator’s body. Because of its short legs, it can’t turn sharp angles nearly as fast as it can move in a straight line forward.

American Alligators are nearly total carnivores. Like many reptiles, they can gorge themselves and then go for weeks without eating again, especially when colder ambient temperatures make them lethargic. If an alligator kills a large animal it often eats a portion and then stashes the remainder of the carcass in a bank undercut or underwater hole, waiting for decomposition to soften the tissue and make it easier to tear apart.

While the gator’s jaws and teeth are extremely strong, they are not built for cutting. A gator grabs hold of prey and then rolls in the water to drown the victim. To eat, it twists off a portion of meat that it can wolf down its gullet, bone and all. Overall, however, the alligator’s diet is comprised of fish, birds and small animals… and frequently small pets where their habitat increasingly overlaps with human development. Alligators are mostly nocturnal, spending most of their time in the water. Yet at times, they will take long overland journeys, much to the surprise of south Texas quail hunters who occasionally lose birddogs to gators in stock tanks miles from any flowing rivers or swamps.

The American Alligator is another great North American conservation success story. In the 1950s they were threatened by habitat loss, too much commercial hunting and rampant pest control. At that time, the population in Louisiana was estimated at less than 30,000 alligators in total. In 1967 the American Alligator was listed as an endangered species.

With habitat conservation and regulated hunting, today it’s believed Louisiana is home to around 1 million alligators again, and populations in places like Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas have skyrocketed as well. Today they are found in states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia in fresh water and brackish water swamps, marshes, rivers and estuaries.

Alligators mate in the spring. The female builds a mound nest of vegetation and mud near the water. She lays up to 70 grayish white eggs and covers them with dark, decaying vegetation which helps incubate the eggs. The female remains nearby the nest during the more than two months it takes the eggs to hatch. When they do, she digs up the nest and quickly carries the baby gators to the water in her mouth. Hatchlings gather into pods and are guarded by their mother with whom they keep in contact via vocalizations. It’s at this time during the summer that the female gators can be the most dangerous to humans that stumble across the nests or disturb the young.

Alligator Hunting

In the states where alligators are hunted, seasons are generally conducted in early fall, mostly September and October. Licensing procedures, legal hunting methods, and eligibility of non-residents to participate vary widely. Regulations also vary widely regarding the disposition of the hide and meat of an alligator taken by a “sport” hunter. In some locales, it can be sold to licensed buyers.

Depending on the location and outfitter selected, you may be able to hunt alligators with a rifle or a bow. Nearly all hunts of this type are conducted at night with spotlights while silently drifting through waterways in search of the alligator’s eyes glowing in the light just above the waterline. Experienced guides can instantly judge the size of a gator by the size of and distance between those glowing eyes. Once spotted, you try to drift into position for a shot.

With a rifle, it’s essential to make a direct hit to the brain or the connection of the brain stem to the spine. This is a target smaller than a walnut, so accuracy is critical.

Bow hunting for alligators is somewhat akin to bow fishing. When hunting with this method your gator arrow is attached to a heavy line, which is attached to a float. You attempt to shoot the gator just behind the head, embedding the point of the arrow in the thick hide. The struck alligator will almost always swim away at a high rate of speed under water and can stay submerged for great lengths of time. However, the float attached to the line will allow you to follow the alligator, then grasp the line and ease the gator to the surface near the boat where it can be finally dispatched.

Safari Club International maintains records of trophy American Alligators based on length. Awards classifications begin at just over 8 feet for firearms hunters and 7 feet for bow hunters.

Alligator Outfitters

Particularly because of the complexity of the regulations for non-residents to participate in alligator hunting, locating an experienced, trustworthy outfitter is essential to maximize the opportunity for success and enjoyment of your alligator hunt. The nature of alligator hunting and the habitats in which the hunting is done don’t necessarily make it a natural crossover from hunting more traditional species, so research and reliance on the objective reports of an outfitter’s previous clients are important considerations.

Since the comeback of the alligator to hunting status, Florida has had the longest tradition of hunting dating back to the 1980s. However, South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas are coming on strong with more outfitters gearing up to meet the growing demand. is the right place to begin … and confirm … your search for an alligator outfitter who will lead you to an exciting reptilian adventure.

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