By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
From the brink of extinction to the border of many back yards, alligators in the United States have made one of the most rapid and dramatic comebacks in recorded history, which has given rise to what must surely be one of the great understatements of all time.
In the course of their repopulation, alligators that begin hunting and residing in the places where people currently live are often referred to as “nuisance alligators.”
This British-grade terminology would fit well with saying “a brisk bit of weather” in reference to a major hurricane. Gnats in the woods are a nuisance. Alligators on the sidewalk are something else altogether.
According to wildlife officials, alligators went on the federal endangered species list in 1967 and were de-listed, meaning the populations had sufficiently rebounded, 20 years later. More than 3,000 were transplanted to Mississippi during that span, and they’ve made a population increase that can only be described as astounding.
Their return to abundance has brought about formal hunting opportunities that never existed before, which themselves have created a knowledge base guaranteed to help pass the outdoor traditions along to new generations.
Those drawn for alligator hunts in Mississippi must attend a comprehensive course on the subject. After this year’s classes, state officials will have trained more than a thousand people in all aspects of alligator harvest. A credit to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the hunting program and accompanying course have built a firm and growing base of alligator hunting knowledge among the state’s outdoor enthusiasts.
Though capturing alligators by way of pole snare, by snatch hooks on heavy rod-and-reel combinations, by the use of bow fishing equipment or through some combination of all three can make for a rough-and-tumble affair, none of the human participants has ever suffered a serious injury in the program’s history – testament also to the quality of their mandatory training.
Some of the initial interest in alligator hunting, wildlife officials confess, is generated by a number of reality television shows featuring the lives and livelihood of commercial alligator hunters. That’s fine, officials say, as long as hunters in Mississippi follow Mississippi’s rules.
“Unfortunately a lot of what is portrayed on TV is more dramatic than necessary and, furthermore, a lot of the methods seen there (in shows filmed in Louisiana) are illegal in Mississippi,” said Ricky Flynt, a MDWF&P biologist and the alligator program coordinator. “We don’t allow firearms to be discharged randomly at gators on the water. The gators must be captured and restrained first. Shooting at a flat surface like water causes ricochet, and we don’t want any gators shot and not recovered, either. Shot alligators sink.”
Fortunately for Mississippi outdoor enthusiasts, the alligator program looks like one that’ll float.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.