Setting the hook on a big muskie is thrilling. Coming tight on a bull redfish is a rush. But sinking a treble hook into a 15-foot, 1,000-pound prehistoric reptile? That’s a different experience altogether. There are a lot of ways to skin a gator hunt in the Southeast. But any hunt requires careful preparation, expertise, and specialized equipment.
If you’ve never been on a gator hunt, it’s smart to go with a guide (hunts start at around $700) or an experienced hunter, but you can also go on your own as a nonresident in some states (see sidebar). There are many regulations to navigate, and it’s also dangerous for newbies.
“Here in Florida, you can only hunt gators at night, so you’re contending with the darkness, driving the airboat over submerged stumps that could throw you into the water, and freak storms you can’t predict,” says Bill Booth, co-host of Swamp People: Serpent Invasion.
Here’s a look at the main tactics the pros use for catching these giant reptiles.
1. Baited Bank Hooks
John Currier, an expert gator hunter from Louisiana, anchors a 1,000-pound-test line to a tree and hangs a baited hook—typically raw chicken—above the water from a PVC rod (you can use bamboo or fiberglass stakes too) and sticks it into the bank of a canal or swamp. When the gator takes the bait, it gets caught on the hook. Currier checks lines in the morning and hauls in the gators, dispatching them with a shot from a 9mm to the top of the head.
2. Treble Hooks
Booth spotlights gators at night and uses a heavy-duty tarpon rod with a treble hook tied to a 200-pound braided line. After spotting a big gator, he casts the line to try to hook the reptile’s body with the treble and reel it in close to the boat. Then he kills it with a bangstick, essentially a long stick that fires a round when he presses it to the top of the gator’s skull.
3. Harpoons and Crossbows
You can also bowfish for gators by throwing a harpoon attached to a rope or shooting an arrow tied to a line. Floats are attached to the opposite end of the line to wear the gator down as it tries to swim away. When the gator tires out, you haul it to the boat and bangstick it.
4. Baited Dowels
Some states allow you to use a baited line with a wooden dowel. The dowel, which is a little bigger than a wine cork, is attached to a steel leader and gets stuck in the gator’s throat after it eats the bait. Then you bring the gator to the boat to shoot it or bangstick it.
5. Centerfire Rifles
In some places, it’s legal to spot-and-stalk gators and shoot them with a centerfire rifle. But accuracy here is key—you must hit a spot on the gator’s head, perfectly between the eyes, that’s about the size of a quarter. If you miss, the bullet can ricochet off the water.
Top Alligator hunts
- Louisiana: East Zone starts last Wednesday in August, runs 60 days; West Zone starts first Wednesday in September, runs 60 days ($25 resident; $150 nonresident)
- Florida: Aug. 15–the morning of Nov. 1 ($272 resident tag; $1,220 nonresident tag); the first four weeks are divided into individual quota weeks, with permits assigned to one of those weeks
- Texas: Sept. 10–Sept. 30 core counties; April 1–June 30 noncore counties ($21 CITES tag; resident or nonresident Texas hunting license, except nonresident spring turkey or banded bird license)
- South Carolina: Sept. 12–Oct. 10 ($10 application fee; $100 resident tag; $200 nonresident tag)
- Georgia: Aug. 14–Oct. 5 ($75 resident permit; $250 nonresident permit)
- Arkansas: Sept. 18–Sept. 28 ($5 application fee; residents/lifetime license holders only)
- Alabama: Aug. 13–Oct. 5 ($22 application fee; residents/lifetime license holders only)