(news-press.com) - Grab your spotlight and load up the ol' bangstick because Florida's public alligator hunt starts tonight.
The state released 5,886 permits for this year's hunt. With each hunter receiving two tags, more than 11,000 alligators could be harvested the next 11 weeks, starting at 5 p.m.
Some do it for the meat — alligator ribs and tail meat cost $18 or more a pound — while others just want the hide. Many hunters go after alligators for a night of adrenaline-pumping, old-school combat with one of North America's most dangerous predators.
"To me, it's a combination between fishing and hunting," said Tony Young, head ofFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's hunting division.
Guided hunts often happen like this: One hunter casts a pineapple-sized treble hook past the alligator, hooks it through the skin and starts reeling. As the first hunter reels the alligator toward the boat, a second hunter tosses a larger treble hook rigged on a larger fishing pole and hooks the animal. Both hunters drag the alligator toward the boat. Then it's time for the crossbow or compound bow, which shoots a large arrow with a trailing line and buoy into the alligator. Those three lines are used to pull the alligator to the boat, where a harpoon is used to further secure the animal.
Then a bang stick-type of gun is used to shoot the alligator in the head. At this point the alligator is nearly dead. The mouth is then taped shut before a hunter makes an incision behind the skull, cuts through the spine and into the brain, or through the jugular vein — which releases what some hunters call gator blood Jell-O, which is apparently quite smelly and prone to stain clothes and body parts.
The only type of gun that is legal to use while alligator hunting is called a powerhead or bang stick, which is a tiny gun attached to the end of a pole. There is no trigger; instead, the device fires when the live end is thrust onto an object.
The popularity of alligator hunting has risen in the last decade, from 2,164 hunters in 2002 to 8,103 in 2011. Young said popular television shows featuring alligator hunters have likely driven numbers higher in recent years.
"'Swamp People' had something to do with it," Young said.
The cost is $272 for two tags, and hunters must apply before the season starts to get permits for the current year. There are guides, however, who have permits and will take clients on hunts.
By the numbers
• 14.25: Length in feet for state record male
• 10.2: Length in feet for state record female
• 1,043: Heaviest weighed
• 7,955: Number harvested in 2013
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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