Monday, Oct. 16, 2017
By Dwain Hebda
Arkansas’ 2017 alligator season ended with a record 94 specimens taken during the state’s two weekends of hunting, Sept. 15-18 and Sept. 22-25. The total easily eclipsed the previous record, 66 alligators, harvested in 2016.
Modern-day alligator hunting began in Arkansas in 2007 after approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is only allowed in the two southernmost corners of the state, including all or part of 18 Arkansas counties. The southeast zone, comprised of Arkansas, Lincoln, Desha, Drew, Ashley Chicot and parts of Monroe, Jefferson, Cleveland, Bradley, Union and Phelps counties, yielded 50 alligators this season.
The southwest zone, made up of Little River, Miller, Lafayette, Hempstead, Sevier and part of Howard counties, saw 44 animals harvested in 2017.
Officials with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said 152 permits were available for the 2017 season, 101 of which were up for public draw. The remainder were reserved for large landowners with particularly high populations of alligators to mange nuisance issues via controlled hunts.
Each individual permit allows for one animal to be harvested, during nighttime hunting only, of at least four feet in length. This year's take included several 11- and 12-footers, but did not approach the state record 13 feet 10 inches. Most harvested alligators came in between six and nine feet in length.
AGFC biologist Mark Barbee, who coordinates the annual hunt from the Monticello Regional Office, said interest in alligator hunting has grown right along with the animal's numbers.
“We’ve had steady interest in hunting, and our population is in good shape,” Barbee said. “We’ve been able to increase the harvest over the years to give more hunters opportunities to participate in the hunt.”
Arkansas’ 2017 alligator season ended with a record 94 specimens taken during the state’s two weekends of hunting. (AGFC)
Since being declared an endangered species in 1973, the American alligator has made a remarkable comeback. Though more commonly associated with Louisiana and Florida, the animals have been repopulating in Arkansas ever AGFC began reintroducing specimens here from 1972 to 1984, in all, about 2,800 young alligators.
The subadult creatures were relocated from neighboring Louisiana which was glad to offload some of their excess, so numerous were they in the Pelican State. Many were planted in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, but 80 percent overall went to farms, in the interest of effectively controlling beaver populations.
By 1987, three years after the reintroduction program ceased, it was reported that 45 Arkansas counties had alligators.
Though still under federal protection (largely due to its resemblance to its cousin, the far less numerous crocodile), the creature is no longer considered endangered. Hunting helps control alligator populations and reduce nuisance animal complaints stemming from alligators encroaching into populated areas, as well as providing additional sporting opportunities.
In fact, alligators in Arkansas have become so numerous, sighting one doesn't cause the stir or generate the nuisance call it once did, said Barbee.
“I just think people are becoming a little more used to seeing them in the state," he said. "It used to be that if someone saw an alligator they reported it, but now they’re a little more tolerant of them. Some people even see it as an opportunity to hunt them if they draw a private and at-large tag.”
The southern reaches of the Arkansas Delta present the best natural habitat for alligators, that is, swampy areas near rivers and lakes. Arkansas Post National Memorial near Dumas in Desha County and Millwood State Park near Ashdown offer the low terrain, wetland marches and bayous that are particularly well-suited as alligator habitat.
Expert hunters also point to areas around the Ouachita, Red and lower Arkansas rivers and Bayou Bartholomew which includes Lake Chicot State Park.