A while back my middle son, Paden, who is seventeen, told me he wanted to shoot an alligator with his bow.
Now, anytime one of my kids has ever shown an interest in hunting something, I’ve tried to accommodate him. There’s no more wholesome activity than hunting, and any time a kid is hunting he’s not getting into trouble. Unless, of course, the game he’s hunting has huge teeth and jaws capable of major limb removal. That’s different.
I’ve never hunted alligators, and if someone asks me why I usually tell them it’s because there aren’t any in Mason County, which is true. But the real reason is because gators might decide to hunt back. They just aren’t smart enough to realize they’re supposed to be below man in the food chain, and they keep getting out of place.
But since Paden wants to shoot a gator, I decided to contact my local game warden, Cody Hatfield, and see what he could tell me about it. Cody was chosen by the National Wild Turkey Federation as America’s top wildlife law enforcement officer this year, so I figure he knows just about everything about everything. Plus he’s handy.
As it turns out, Cody has never been involved much with alligators, which is probably another point in his favor, but he did put me in touch with Ellis Powell, who is the game warden in Newton County, which is way over on the Sabine River, almost in Louisiana. Which is where we planned to go gator hunting.
My friend, Julie Harrison, has a son who just bought a place near Bon Weir, which is in Newton County, and it has alligators on it. I don’t know if he knew there were gators there when he bought it, which is something I would want to ask if I ever bought land over there. Anyway, Julie’s son said he would be happy for us to come out and thin the herd, so to speak. I think he wants to be able to go outside without the constant risk of death or dismemberment.
From the Outdoor Annual I had already learned that it’s against the law to intentionally feed a wild alligator except while hunting. Other than that the rules are rather confusing, in the same way that Grand Canyon is rather large. Which is why I called Ellis Powell.
I also talked to Gary Caulkin, who is the District lead biologist for East Texas, and was on the original committee which made up the rules for hunting alligators in Texas. Gary and Ellis were both very helpful in explaining the rules to me, so that now I feel confident in saying that, should you decide to hunt gators in Texas, you will probably do something wrong. Nothing personal, that’s just the way it is.
The problem is that there are 22 ‘core’ counties in East Texas, where the rules are different from everywhere else. Except where they aren’t. And in non-core counties, the rules are different than they are in core counties, except where they’re the same. Perhaps you begin to see why I’m confused.
In core counties, of which Newton is one, the gator season is Sept. 10 – 30. Everywhere else the season is April 1 – June 30, except on private property where the owner has petitioned TPWD to change them over to the fall season, in which case the season is Sept. 10 – 30. Plus the rules for core counties apply then. Bear in mind I am not making these rules up.
Now, in core counties, TPWD has to come out and inspect private property before anyone hunts, and issue CITES tags, which are like deer tags. CITES is an acronym that stands for something. When a gator is killed the hunter must attach the tag before he even changes his pants.
In non-core counties, there are no CITES tags issued ahead of time. The hunter has to fill out a Wildlife Resource Document when he kills a gator, and attach a copy to the animal, and send the original to TPWD with $21, and they’ll send him a CITES tag in the mail, which he must then attach to the gator forthwith.
Also bear in mind that in no instance can you hunt in both seasons on the same property. Gators can be taken in either the fall season or the spring season on a given place, but not both, and you have to know which, or else.
The means and methods for legally taking a gator are also varied, according to whether you’re hunting on public or private property. For example, firearms are legal (and, I would think, advisable) on private property, but not on public property, such as a WMA. Plus you can never, under any circumstance, shoot into, across, from, or over public water, even if a gator has you by the foot.
Suffice it to say that, should you decide to hunt gators, you’d do well to check with the TPWD folks where you plan to hunt, and do it way ahead of time. I would also like to stress that this column in no way purports to be a quotable authority pertaining to the legal taking of alligators in Texas.
I can, however, comment on the intelligence of bowhunting gators. Which is why I advised Paden to hunt them on our place in Mason County . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who is looking for a place to take his son gator hunting around Athens, Texas this spring. If you know of a place there write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org