The 10th annual Arkansas alligator hunting season wrapped up on September 26, but not before a record-setting 64 alligators had been harvested in two weekends of gator hunting. With the number of harvested gators at an all time high, does that mean the alligator population in Arkansas is on the rise? Not necessarily.
According to Mark Barbee, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife biologist at the Monticello Regional Office, the record number doesn’t necessarily mean the gator population is up in rcent years, but instead can be related to the availability of water during alligator survey periods and the efforts of the hunters.
Arkansas Alligator Permits Survey-Based
“We issue the number of permits each year based on surveys done in spring,” Barbee said. “If there’s a lot of water, we can access a lot more areas and our count may go up, allowing us to increase alligator permits. However, higher water levels can also have a negative impact, in that alligators can disperse into new areas we can’t access, so it’s not a sure thing.”
Other state wildlife professionals agree on this point. Water levels are an important factor when it comes to surveying, managing alligators in their available habitat. It impacts the total number of alligator permits in Texas, Louisiana and over the American alligators range. But the number of permits issued is only half of the equation. The total number of permit claimed and used are another component.
“Each year we have 15 or so people who don’t claim their permit or attend the mandatory orientation here in Arkansas,” Barbee said. “This year’s participation was much better.” Barbee says the success rate for participants this year was 58 percent, which is fairly consistent with years past. Barbee says this year, 116 permits were available for the drawing, and out of those drawn, 111 hunters attended the mandatory orientations to receive their permit.
“If you were to count the success of hunters encountering a legal gator it would be much higher than the number of permits actually used,” Barbee said. “Many hunters see legal gators during their alligator hunt but pass them up, looking for a larger one. A few get lucky and find them. Some keep looking until the gator hunting season runs out.”
Record Alligator Hunting Season, No Record Gator
A record number of gators were tagged during the alligator hunting season although none broke the Arkansas state record of 13 feet, 10 inches. However, both zones had some gators longer than 12 feet taken! The largest of the season came from Zone 3 (southeast Arkansas) and measured 12 feet, 10½ inches. The largest from Zone 1 (southwest Arkansas) was 12 feet, 4 inches. Plenty of 10- to 12-footers were shared via the AGFC’s Facebook page.
The southeast zone was responsible for 42 alligators harvested, while the southwest zone had 22 harvested animals.