A Senate committee on Wednesday will consider a proposal that extends alligator hunting season on private property.
Right now, landowners can apply for “tags” to kill a certain amount of gators on their property from September 1 to October 15. A bill sponsored by Charleston Republican Chip Campsen would expand the season through May 31 on private property only. The Senate Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee will consider the idea Wednesday.
Campsen, who chairs the committee, says the current season is too short and falls during a time when most land managers are busy with other things. “It really is absolutely the busiest time of the year for anyone engaged in wildlife habitat management,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “There really is no reason to concentrate in that busiest time of the year.”
The proposed change would not affect gator harvesting on public land in South Carolina. Right now, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requires hunters to enter a lottery for tags that let them harvest on public land. No more than 1,200 of these tags were given out in 2012. The season is limited to the five weeks between early September and mid-October. Another difference is that hunters on private land can use a high-powered rifle and scope, while public hunts must use snares, clubs, and handguns.
Campsen said an expanded season is necessary for landowners to keep their gator population in check. But opponents of the new idea say some of those landowners want to change the law so they’ll have more time to sell safari-style alligator hunts to guests.
Ron Russell is the owner of Gator Getter Consultants, which removes nuisance alligators from properties. Russell said he also hunts the animals but believes expanding the season into the spring would decimate gator populations, especially since the reptiles spend much of March and April basking in the sun.
“It’s got nothing to do with population control,” he said, “It’s got everything to do with making a dollar. Alligator hunting is very popular right now and they want to sell hunts while the gators are most vulnerable.”
Russell said he was also concerned that the longer season would shrink the gator population, which was still classified as “endangered” only two decades ago. He said the proposal eliminates the very time limit that keeps the annual harvest from growing too large.
“The private season is 45 days long, which is more than adequate for the number that they want to harvest,” he added that DNR still gives out permits to hunt alligators for “nuisance” reasons out of season.
Campsen, who is a property manager himself, said DNR would still have the power to limit the number of alligators killed each year since the agency is able to place quotas on each individual property. He said he also made sure that the summer nesting season is still off-limits. DNR supports the legislation, he said.
“I can take you places where, in a 200-yard long by 20-yard wide area, I can show you hundreds of alligators without you even having to turn your head,” Campsen said.
Wildlife officials maintain that there are more than 100,000 alligators in the state.