Around-the-clock alligator hunting supported

TALLAHASSEE — Wildlife officials agreed Wednesday to around-the-clock hours for alligator hunting but expressed some concerns about a new part of the hunting arsenal.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday directed staff members to set up rule changes that will ensure more daylight hours for alligator hunting in most parts of the state. The commission also supported allowing pre-charged pneumatic airbows with tethered lines as part of the equipment that alligator hunters can use.

But commissioners, meeting at the Tampa Convention Center, directed staff to look into modifying the allowed strength of airbows. That came after Robb Upthegrove, a Plant City resident from an alligator hunting family, expressed concerns about allowing just any hunter to use an airbow, which he said could be as strong as a “rifle.”

“It’s a great tool,” said Upthegrove. “But if it’s not used right, it could cause issues in the future.”

Commissioner Steven Hudson agreed.

“The intent is similar to the harpoon where it just pierces the skin, and they’re able to pull the gator in,” Hudson said. “If you do set it up, and you hit the gator in the right place, it could be lethal. And that’s not the intent.”

The state already allows a number of methods involving tethered lines, including crossbows, bows, snatch hooks and harpoons. Airbows, which are charged with an external high compression source to propel arrows, were not commercially available the last time the state updated its alligator harvest methods.

Brooke Talley, the commission’s alligator management program coordinator, said the change in hours — from between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 24 hours during the hunting season — should help hunters better schedule their trips and potentially allow more young and senior hunters to participate, as they might be more comfortable hunting during the day.

“These program improvements will increase opportunity and flexibility for hunters, while providing greater clarity in the rule language,” Talley said.

The commission will have to sign off on the rule changes at its May meeting to be in place for the upcoming hunting season, which will run from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1.

The changes are considered part of the commission’s approach to managing the estimated 1.3 million alligators in Florida.

The state averages about 7,500 hunting permits a year as part of its alligator management program. The first statewide hunt in 1988 drew 229 permits.

Feedback from more than 7,000 people through workshops, webinars and surveys was largely supportive, Talley said. But concerns were raised, in part, that the 24-hour proposal would conflict with other outdoor activities, such as bass fishing and duck hunting, and that there is the potential for meat spoiling from alligators harvested during the hottest part of the day.

“We believe that they can be mitigated with additional planning and outreach,” Talley said. “For example, meat spoilage prevention tips are already available on our website.”

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