NEW ORLEANS — With gator hunting now a reality TV staple, more out-of-state hunters have been flocking to Louisiana’s swamps and marshes to bag the big reptiles, paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars to guides with the tags required for a legal harvest.
The 30-day season opened in eastern Louisiana on Wednesday and opens Sept. 4 in western sections of the state.
At Grosse Savanne Waterfowl & Wildlife Lodge in western Louisiana, wildfowl hunts have been fully booked since 2006 but alligator hunts took longer to fill up, said manager Karl Zimmerman.
“We didn’t get fully booked up until the Swamp People program came out on the History Channel,” said Zimmerman, 35, who began riding along on alligator hunts with his father when he was 6 or 7.
While he appreciates the way the televised Cajun gator hunts have boosted business, he can’t stand to watch them.
“Ninety percent of it is Hollywood,” he said. “They really make it out to be the savage beast — it’s going to come get you every time you get up close to ‘em. That’s really not the way it is. Especially in the wild.”
State wildlife officials describe the annual take as a harvest rather than a hunt. That’s accurate, Zimmerman said.
“If you go out to hunt ‘em in the broad daylight, you never can get close enough to get a good kill shot with a gator,” he said. That’s why they’re taken on big baited hooks left out overnight and hauled to the surface to be shot, Zimmerman said.
About 34,000 alligators will be taken this year in Louisiana, wildlife officials say.
This year’s tally of out-of-state hunters paying $150 for a gator hunting license is likely to beat last year’s record 507, said Noel Kinler, head of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ alligator program. The number had averaged 144 for three years, then rose to 178 in 2010 and 332 in 2011.