Florida Alligator Hunting
An interview with Randy Clark
Joe Kegley | Randy Clark : E-Mail | Posted 05-30-2013
Alligator Skull (11'6" skull with a 7' skull in the jaws for comparison) - Randy Clark
Hunters always intrigue me, they have a deep respect for wildlife and their knowledge of the natural world is frequently unmatched. Even better, much of that knowledge is from personal experience. If you want to get close to wildlife, ask a hunter how to do it. Most are very willing to share their technique with blinds/stealth, seasons, time of day, and weather conditions for encountering wildlife. In addition many I know are birders and wildflower enthusiasts. Considering the amount of time these guys spend in the field no wonder their appreciation and knowledge of local natural history is frequently unsurpassed.
While I know many folks who hunt deer and waterfowl, I only have one friend who hunts gators. Obviously the process for taking a reptile with a mouth full of teeth is a little different than bagging a buck or a duck. Enter Randy Clark. Randy has been a resident of Florida all his life and has hunted waterfowl, hogs, deer, turkey, and snipe. In addition he is also quite the fisherman. Randy's passion is the outdoors and he spends as much time out in the environment as possible. When I found out he also hunted alligators I had to interview him about the process and his experiences. Alligator hunting isn't for everyone, but for this Florida native it's about the best it gets.
Randy, what is the process for getting a license to hunt alligators in Florida?
So you want to try your hand at alligator hunting in Florida. Well first off you need to get lucky in the lottery or at least have a buddy who is lucky. Alligator tags are transferable in Florida. You try for two CITES tags and an Alligator Trapping License in the first phase of the random lottery draw. The application period for the random drawing to assign permits for the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program will begin at 10 A.M. on April 29 and run through 11:59 P.M. on May 12.
Assuming I won the lottery to hunt gators in Florida, how much is the permit?The cost for a resident license is $272.00 for the two tags, if you're not lucky enough to reside in Florida then that cost goes up to $1022.00. If you don't get drawn for the first phase you can reapply for leftovers during the second phase. A few years ago you could buy unsold tags during a 3rd phase for only $62.00 if you had received a trapper's license in one of the first two draws. Unfortunately, depending on your point of view, due to the increase interest in hunting gators last year's 3rd phase left few if any desirable locations.
So let's say you or your buddy get lucky and win two tags. The one who didn't get lucky can buy an alligator trapping agent's license for $ 52.00. The agent's license is needed for anyone helping "take" an alligator. If you want to harpoon, reel in, or grab a rope you need this license.
What is the length of gator season in Florida and when does it start?
The start of the season depends on your permit. Last year the season started the evening of August 15 thru September 12, in one week intervals, depending on what alligator management area and week you were drawn for. After Sept 12th anyone who has not filled their tags has until November 1 to do so. Hours of legal hunting were from 5pm until 10am. There is no catch and release so if you have one on the rod or line you have to bring it in no matter what size it is. But 10 am is the last moment to try. The two tags allow you to harvest two gators of whatever size you hook so be particular what you cast on if you're looking for a trophy gator.
What kind of equipment does one need to hunt gators and what's the technique?
The tackle you use depends on where you are hunting and personal preference. I like to use a stout short 6 foot rod with a heavy duty spinning reel spooled with 80lb braided line using a foot and half leader out of 400lb shark wire. Add a 12 aught weighted treble hook and you have my favorite setup.
You also will need a ¼ inch rope with a 20 aught treble hook to snatch him off the bottom if he is too big to persuade with the rod. Also a harpoon with chisel tips hooked up to 50 ' of 1/4" rope with a float attached to the end. Of course a bang stick to finish the job is also nice.
My method of hunting is scouting an area where I know there are gators, getting out there as soon and as often as possible. You can't get one from the couch. If you're lucky the evening of the first night the wind will be calm and you might see the gator out on the lake or river. Sometimes you can sneak up close and cast over them, dragging the hook up, and snatching them with a powerful jerk back on the rod to set the hook. But sometimes these guys start getting wary and you have to "run and gun" so to speak. For instance, you might look for one as you slowly cruise the lake, then once spotted, come in quick and start blanket casting the area. Be sure to hold on that rod with two hands, sometimes you hook a bigger one than expected. Now hopefully the hook is set well and the fight ensues. It may take an hour or more of fighting the beast to get him to the boat. We hunt out of a 17" Gator Trax with a Mud Buddy motor, and we've been drug upstream sideways by gators before.
When you get the gator close to the boat you want it to be fully spent. Action at the boat is fun on TV but can really be dangerous. This is where everyone should know their jobs ahead of time. If I can get him close enough and haven't hooked him from the back of the tail, I try to get a harpoon dart into him. Once I have a ¼ " rope on him I can relax somewhat. The guy with the rod can relax somewhat also.
If the gator is hooked way back on the tail you might not be able to harpoon it. This is where the snatch hook comes into play. Throw the hook out towards the head of the gator and drag it back, snatching it hard. Be ready though, a tired gator gets a lot of energy when the hook bites. Once we have a tired gator up to the boat bring its head up to where it's about 6" under water. One guy has the ropes and the other can now load the bang stick and pop the gator in the sweet spot at the base of the skull. Too high and you ruin the skull, too low and you have to start fighting the gator over again to bring it up for another shot. The picture below shows the right depth.
Proper depth of the gator for using the bang stick - Randy Clark
In the image below the alligator is definitely too high for the bang stick.
The gator in this image is definitely too high for the bang stick - Randy Clark
This is what happens when the bang stick is too high - Randy Clark
What is the most dangerous time during the hunt?
Anytime the gator is close to the boat is the most dangerous moment through the whole process. This is one sport you don't want to have an accident. I use a long handled stout gaff to catch the gator under its lower jaw. I tap on its eye, if it moves we either shoot it again or let it lay in the water awhile. Once you have the gator upside the boat (dragging the head up to the rail) one guy then grabs the jaws shut and another wraps electrical tape around the snout. I don't mind if you use a little more tape at all. Heck wrap it a couple more times.
Getting ready to tape the snout - Randy Clark
What's the biggest alligator you have personally taken when hunting in Florida?
To date the biggest gator I have personal caught was 11"10" estimated to weigh over 700 lbs. We sold that one to a processor for $340 dollars, not bad for 3 hours of fun and excitement. Of course there were other days and nights spent just looking.
What do you do with the harvested gator?
I have done several European skull mounts and have tanned 3 gators for wall mounts. One was 10'4" and another one was 9' which I did for my sons, and I did an 11'6" that I caught. We usually skin and process the gators ourselves. Then we usually have parties as a reason to eat. There are many ways to cook gator, barbecue or smoked tastes almost like pork, deep fat fried or made into fritters taste almost like chicken. Well sort of.
One thing I gather from some of your previous comments is that it can take more than one person to land a gator into the boat. Seems like this is one type of hunt that can be somewhat of a social outing with family and friends. Would you agree?
One of the more fun aspects about gator hunting is you can have 3-4 people in the boat talking and laughing about someone's bad cast then the next moment be fighting a gator that is so huge you're wondering how you're going to get it in the boat. The smile says it all. My son's first gator was 10'4" and he hooked it under a bridge then fought it through the pilings. The alligator finally got out in the lake away from the bridge and we got it in the boat. Twenty minutes till 10 am lets hook another one and we did.
The smiles says it all (note the duct tape around both snouts) - Randy Clark
This is what you don't want to see after it is in the boat, see the photograph below. This was my first gator 11'6" five guys had to get out and lift it into the boat. My friend's girlfriend at the time was taking pictures for me.
Up close and personal - friend
I have to admit it was a pretty exciting day.
11'6" Alligator - Randy Clark
One thing I like to do is get new people involved with gator hunting, including friends of the family and a kid just back from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. I also took out the son of my best friend (who used to take me hunting and has passed away). I have gotten lucky on the draw and with 4 gator tags to fill that's more meat than I have freezer. So I invite folks to come with me, all they need is the $52.00 license and they can kill a gator on my tag. Of course they have to help clean it and get to take all the meat home. When you're out and the morning looks like the picture below ... it's going to be a good day.
A good day hunting - Randy Clark
My son Matt and his first gator.
Matt's first gator - Randy Clark
Some people don't understand alligator hunting, but I enjoy it. The 150 - 300 lbs of meat feeds my family and friends for a good while. We tan the hides and clean the skulls for displays.
Alligator hide and skull - Randy Clark
About Randy ...
One thing I have to say about being a hunter is that it gives me a reason to spend a lot of time with my kids. Some guys play golf to get away from the job and family. I hit the woods or the marsh to spend more time with my sons. When we're out in the marsh waiting in the early hours we have lots of time to talk, and more importantly, it's a time for me to listen to my kids. We've been hunting together since Trey was 4 years old, he would fall asleep under the bow of the boat and wake up to shotgun blasts and ducks flying away.
It's not so much about the kill but who you spend the time with. Trey is 28 now and boy the stories he can tell. My older son Chris used to fly down Christmas Eve when we had permits for an STA duck hunt on the 26th and we would be head down to Clewiston to hunt. That was his favorite gift at Christmas. My youngest Matt, now 22, is frequently asked to join some of my buddies on their gator hunts when they have trouble filling their tags. My sons have learned a lot being out in the marsh. They've also taught me a thing or two. What do you say to a kid who says "Dad you can't keep that snook, you don't have a permit". The dining room was 30 feet away but that snook and three others were tossed back in the river that night. I guess they've been listening also. If you get lucky enough to get drawn for a gator tag and it's around Longwood and you need a hand send me an email. Randyc.firstname.lastname@example.org