Skip to main content

The Great Gator Comeback in America

Listed as endangered just half a century ago, the American alligator now thrives across the South.

The Great Gator Comeback in America

The comeback of the American alligator is one of our great conservation success stories. (Shutterstock image)

Apex predator: A predator at the top of a food chain that is not preyed upon by any other animal except, possibly, humans.

The American alligator certainly falls into that category. If you want to see where the dinosaurs went, look no father than your neighborhood pond or lake. Evolution has not changed them much in 8 million years.

Gators are found in 10 of the southeastern states. They live in a broad swath that stretches from North Carolina to Texas and includes both Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, southeast Texas and tiny corners of Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Alligators were legally hunted in the United States until the early 20th century. Dwindling numbers led state wildlife agencies to issue rulings limiting the take of alligators in the 1940s, but as numbers continued to fall, alligator seasons were eliminated completely. State and federal wildlife agencies put strict conservation measures in place. In 1938, Alabama was the first state to protect alligators. Other states followed suit, and in 1967 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the American alligator on the Endangered Species List.


THE START OF THE COMEBACK

By the 1970s, alligator numbers were bouncing back. In 1975, the Florida Game and Fish Commission (predecessor of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) received more than 5,000 complaints about nuisance alligators. At first, wildlife officers simply relocated problem animals to other parts of the state. The rapid increase in alligator numbers, though, caused biologists to reevaluate the gator’s status. Eventually, the GFC created the nuisance alligator program to remove animals that wildlife officers felt posed a potential hazard to humans and domestic animals. By the early 1980s, Florida had initiated a limited experimental harvest to assess how much impact hunting would have on gator populations.


In 1987, the USFWS removed the alligator from the Endangered Species List and states began opening alligator seasons. Florida had its first statewide commercial harvest in 1988.

Across the region, alligator numbers have rebounded—in some places to all-time highs. Most states that have alligator populations allow some degree of hunting; Oklahoma and North Carolina do not.

Not all states survey alligator numbers the same way, and some don’t do alligator surveys at all. In Florida, biologists run annual surveys, but we also can draw inferences from harvest data. Here, nuisance trappers harvested 535 alligators in 1977. In 1988, the first year of the commercial harvest, nuisance trappers and hunters together took a total of 7,452 alligators. By 2018, the total annual harvest reached 16,547.

Taken at face value, that number might suggest alligator numbers are exploding. That may have been the case in the 1980s and 1990s, but alligator numbers in Florida are fairly stable right now. While the alligator harvest fluctuates some, it’s generally been in the 16,000 to 18,000 range since 2006.




Georgia also relies on harvest data to monitor gator numbers. In 2003, the first year Georgia allowed alligator hunting, the total harvest was only 72 animals. In 2018, hunters took a total of 278 alligators. This represents a 286-percent increase in harvest during that 15-year period. This number includes only alligators that have been taken through hunting; the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s Wildlife Resources Division says nuisance trappers remove about another 450 alligators annually.

In South Carolina, where alligators are present only in the eastern half of the state, hunters harvested 452 gators in 2008, the second year general alligator hunting was allowed. During the 2017 season, the number of animals harvested was only 343, indicating that the population in South Carolina likely is fairly stable.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) runs an annual alligator survey along approximately 317 miles of waterways on 15 routes in 13 counties. Biologists recently estimated that the state has between 32,000 and 38,000 alligators, far fewer than either Florida or Louisiana. Currently, alligator harvesting is limited to the removal of nuisance alligators by licensed agent-trappers. The MDWFP classifies "nuisance" alligators as any gator that has preyed upon or attempted to prey upon humans, pets or livestock, or an alligator that shows aggression toward and a lack of fear of humans.In Texas, Jonathan Warner is the Alligator Program Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife. He said biologists estimate there are between 400,000 and 500,000 alligators in the Lone Star State. However, that has not translated to an increase in human-alligator conflict.


"I’ve been in this position since February 2017," says Warner. "There have only been two bites that have been reported to my office in that time. Both were from wading fishermen. One was in brackish water fishing for redfish, and he stepped on the alligator and was bitten on the leg. The other one was bass fishing in freshwater. We have a lot of alligators in southeast Texas, and a lot of outdoorsmen and -women who fish and duck hunt and are in these habitats constantly. Our experience with human-alligator conflict, by every measure we have, seems to be extremely low.”

Go On, Getcha a Gator

Gator Comeback
Want to hunt alligators? These three states provide the best opportunities. (Shutterstock)

1. If you’re interested in hunting alligators, Texas should be the first state on your list. "We have an extensive fall hunting season that helps control the numbers," says Jeff Warner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "We’re the only state that also has a limited spring season." The fall season runs September 10 to 30 in 22 "core" counties where the largest alligator population is located; the spring season is open from April 1 through June 30 in the state’s "non-core" counties.

2. Louisiana is divided into two alligator hunting zones: East and West. The East Zone opens the last Wednesday in August, while the West Zone opens the first Wednesday in September. Both zones are open for 30 days.

3. Florida alligator hunts are limited-entry hunts, and you’ll have to wait until 2021 to attempt to draw a tag. Phase I applications are due between May 8 and May 18 each year. The statewide alligator hunting season begins August 15 and ends November 1.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021 are several hunter-defined products, such as the Excalibur TwinStrike Crossbow, BowTech Solution and Solution SS Bows, TightSpot Pivot 2.5 Quiver, Ripcord Cage and Code Red X arrowrests, and Black Gold Pro FX and Pro Hunter HD sights.

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells had an exciting visit with Mark Hayes, design engineer for Mathews, as the pair looked at the new V3 27 and V3 31 bows.

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Want to learn how to cook tasty walleye? This recipe includes three easy methods (on a grill, in a foil packet, and on a stovetop) that are sure to result in a delicious lunch or supper.Grilled Walleye Recipe Fish

Grilled Walleye Recipe

Raschell Rule - August 12, 2014

Want to learn how to cook tasty walleye? This recipe includes three easy methods (on a grill,...

These affordable designs are big on features, short on cash outlay — ATA Show.New Crossbows Under $600 for 2021 ATA Show

New Crossbows Under $600 for 2021

Lynn Burkhead - January 14, 2021

These affordable designs are big on features, short on cash outlay — ATA Show.

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever SHOT Show

Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever

Richard Mann - October 27, 2020

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation & Politics

Fawn among two animals that died from 'inhumane attacks,' three were injured and have recovered.Oregon Investigates Blow-Gun Dart Deaths, Injuries of Mule Deer News

Oregon Investigates Blow-Gun Dart Deaths, Injuries of Mule Deer

Game & Fish Staff - March 03, 2021

Fawn among two animals that died from 'inhumane attacks,' three were injured and have...

Opinion from the National Shooting Sports Foundation on reports of guns and ammo purchasers being labeled as potential criminals.NSSF: The Chilling Gun-Control Move By Bank of America Conservation & Politics

NSSF: The Chilling Gun-Control Move By Bank of America

Larry Keane - February 09, 2021

Opinion from the National Shooting Sports Foundation on reports of guns and ammo purchasers...

After federal delisting from endangered list, wolves open for harvest during quota season.Gray Wolf Hunting, Trapping Opens in Wisconsin News

Gray Wolf Hunting, Trapping Opens in Wisconsin

Lynn Burkhead - February 23, 2021

After federal delisting from endangered list, wolves open for harvest during quota season.

National Shooting Sports Foundation says President Joe Biden chooses malarkey gun control over real solutions.NSSF: Biden Blame-Shifts on Anniversary of Parkland Tragedy Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Biden Blame-Shifts on Anniversary of Parkland Tragedy

Larry Keane - February 16, 2021

National Shooting Sports Foundation says President Joe Biden chooses malarkey gun control over...

See More Conservation & Politics

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now