Florida-based outfitter Glenn Grizzaffe of Tampa, Florida, sees gator hunting as big business. He’s booked 532 hunts in a single season, of which half were bowhunts.
What makes Grizzaffe an exceptional gator hunter? He specializes in calling gators by imitating the distress sounds made by young alligators. Male alligators come looking for an easy meal, while female alligators respond out of maternal instincts to protect their young.
“It’s a fun way to hunt because you’re not just waiting around in the dark to shoot them,” Grizzaffe said. “It’s more like hunting elk or turkeys. You’re hunting them in daylight, and they’re swimming to you.”
Opportunities for bowhunting alligators have increased in recent years throughout the Southeast from Texas to South Carolina, generally during August, September or October. No state, however, can match Florida for gator-hunting opportunities because of its longer season, higher alligator-harvest quotas and a growing list of gator-hunting guides.
“Florida offers nearly everything you could want for gator hunting,” said ATA Board member Blake Shelby, VP of sales and marketing for PSE Archery. “Whether you want to hunt day or night, or call them, stalk them or float up to them, you can find ways to do it in Florida. Probably the most difficult thing about gator hunting is that permit numbers are controlled, and each state varies on what you can do. You can’t just show up tomorrow and expect to hunt them.”
“Tracker Jack” Woods of Waldens Outdoor in Augusta, Georgia, sells his own patented reel system called a “Gaitor-Aider,” which can be fitted with 200-, 400- or 600-pound test line. With Georgia and South Carolina issuing about 500 tags annually, and Florida within driving distance, it’s a market he can’t ignore.
“You typically aren’t selling guys a gator-hunting bow,” Woods said. “They can use just about any bow they like shooting, so it’s another fun bowhunt for the guys who draw a tag.”
Gator “Tool Box”
To bowhunt big gators, you’ll need equipment and someone to help you navigate state regulations and steps to obtain a hunting license and/or tags. Field & Stream offers a list of the basics, which we’ve included below. To select the equipment that’s right for you, and obtain information and instruction on where to start, you’ll want to visit an ATA-member archery shop. You can find one near you here.
Bow: Your deer bow will work, as will any smooth-shooting budget bow.
Reel and Buoy: The end of the line is attached to a buoy that the gator takes with him after the shot.
Arrow and Point: Use a heavy fiberglass bowfishing arrow rigged with a heavy steel bowfishing point that will separate from the shaft.
Harpoon: Big gators often require a second buoy. You’ll want a complete harpoon rig.
Bang Stick: Here’s the coup de grâce tool of choice for boatside gators.
If you feel good about your gear and want to learn more about how to get close to a gator, go here to get Field & Stream’s tips on “how to motor into shooting range.”
As with any species, you have to know it to hunt gators. Makes sense, right? What are the animal’s food sources, habits and habitat? Here, we rely on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for gator facts and species descriptions:
Alligators are opportunistic feeders. Their diets include prey species that are abundant and easily accessible. Juvenile alligators eat primarily insects, amphibians, small fish, and other invertebrates. Adult alligators eat rough fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, and birds.
Alligators occur from southeast Oklahoma and east Texas on the western side of their range to North Carolina and Florida in the east. They prefer fresh water lakes and slow-moving rivers and their associated wetlands, but they also can be found in brackish water habitats.
Nearly all alligators become sexually mature by the time they reach approximately 7 feet in length although females can reach maturity at 6 feet. A female may require 10-15 years and a male 8-12 years to reach these lengths. Courtship begins in early April, and mating occurs in May or June. Females build a mound nest of soil, vegetation, or debris and deposit an average of 32 to 46 eggs in late June or early July. Incubation requires approximately 63-68 days, and hatching occurs from mid-August through early September.
The most recent evidence indicates that crocodilians (which includes alligators) and dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor that existed subsequent to the common ancestor that they share with other reptiles. So, even though alligators are classified as reptiles along with lizards, snakes, and turtles, they are actually more closely related to birds, whose direct ancestors were dinosaurs!
There are PDF downloads and other substantive information where this came from, so be sure to check the source too.
Eat what you hunt and hunt what you eat. See how self-reliant that sounds? For gators, there’s a ton of information out there for you to get started.
Here’s how to clean, fillet, debone and skin a gator.
Try this one-pot Cajun recipe, courtesy of Field & Stream:
Alligator Sauce Piquante
- 2 lb. alligator tail meat (or other game), cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3⁄4 cup vegetable oil
- 3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- 3 Tbsp. chopped garlic
- 1 15-oz. can stewed tomatoes
- 1 1⁄2 quarts chicken stock
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning
- 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
- 1⁄2 cup chopped scallions
- Cooked rice, for serving
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To get the directions and a lesson on making the all-important roux, go here.
Interested in hunting with a bow and arrow, but all this gator stuff is far too intense? That’s OK. We have the perfect starting point for you. Go to Archery 360’s “Intro to Archery.”
Amy Hatfield contributed to this story.