State wildlife agents also say that rising numbers of locals are poaching the big reptiles during the 11 months that hunting is forbidden.
The number of arrests for killing alligators out of season rose from 33 in 2007 to 69 in 2011, 85 last year and 54 so far this year, said Adam Einck, spokesman for the department’s enforcement division.
Some of those people have told wildlife agents they were just doing what they’d seen on TV, said enforcement division Maj. Sammy Martin. “They’re thinking that pretty much you can go out and hunt alligators whenever you want, without realizing what the rules and the laws and regulations are in the actual taking of the alligators,” he said.
Zimmerman is among about 3,000 in-state hunters who have ponied up $25 for a license and either own wetlands where gators live or have a hunting lease from the owner.
The one hunt that stands out for him was with a customer about nine years ago. As Zimmerman hauled on a line staked out on a 40-foot-wide canal, he knew he had a big one. The head of a 6-foot gator emerged from the murky water, followed by that of an 11-footer that hadn’t quite finished eating the 6-footer. The customer shot the big alligator but didn’t kill it.
“It spits the whole 6-footer out and started thrashing and sank to the bottom.” Once hooked or shot, an alligator must be killed. Zimmerman waded into the canal and began poking about with a 10-foot stick. The alligator eventually moved. They followed its trail of bubbles. About 45 minutes after it was first hit, it resurfaced and they shot it.
Indiscriminate hunting had left so few alligators by 1941 that Alabama passed a law protecting them. Louisiana and Florida banned alligator hunting in 1962. The species went on the nation’s first endangered species list in 1967. By 1972, numbers in Louisiana were high enough to allow hunting, which has been tightly regulated ever since.