By Joan Lyons

I decided to attend an alligator hunting training class at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida. I wanted to introduce a humane perspective, opinion, and consciousness to the audience. Here’s what happened:

Picture a big hall with about eight vendor tables and seating for the 100 or so people who attended.  Outside, lots of big trucks; and inside, lots of big guys wearing camouflage.  Vendors included the Water Sportsman’s Legal Defense Fund and companies selling gear, guide and processing services for gator hunters.

A young boy, about 8 years old, was handing out brochures for his family’s business. They were trophy hunting guides. I asked if he had ever killed an alligator and he said that he and his dad caught a “9-foot gator.” I asked what he did with it, and he said (among other things) that his dad “made a real nice pencil cup out of its foot.”

A show of hands indicated that there were about 25 “newcomers” to “gator hunting” and that this training program is totally optional.  You could, in fact, buy a license and go gator hunting with no training at all.

We learned from the Florida State spokesman that gator hunting takes place at night and the equipment includes harpoons and bangsticks (a firearm designed to work in water)

He said that gator hunting licenses cost more because of the commercial value of the carcass and hide. He described the process:

When catching your gator, the first goal is to attach a restraining line to the gator’s body. You can use a harpoon for this because “it doesn’t pull out very easily.”  The gator’s hide is tough, so once the tip is under the hide, it’s very difficult to pull it out.

He suggested also that you attach a snag hook to a fishing pole, which will allow you to hunt from quite a distance using a crossbow or bow-fishing equipment, which gives you a moderate range of 20-25 yards.

After you stick the gator and bring him close to the boat, “the alligator will fight back.”  “Let him tire out, because he can’t fight for long periods of time.”

After he tires you can shoot him in the back of the brain with the bangstick.  Make sure his head is under water when you do this.  Basically, wear him out and then kill him. 

Then secure his jaw – snare it and tape his mouth shut. Grab the gator by the snout. Make sure “the gator’s gone to alligator heaven” he cautioned before using a large knife to sever the spinal cord. 

Then insert a metal probe into the brain.  (The spokesman held up an alligator skull to show where to stick the gator, and made a motion to indicate “probing” the brain.)

Then insert a CITES tag into the tail, use a pocket knife to slit a hole within 6 inches of the tip of the tail and lock it on the underside of the tail to make it easier for the processors.

As the meeting broke up, I went outside with several signs. One in particular was unpopular with the audience. It read, “Animal Cruelty IS NOT a Sport.” That brought about reactions ranging from the fact that it was lucrative to personal comments that can’t be repeated here.

Although I’m quite aware of how animals suffer, I was shocked at the total inhumanity that I witnessed, the coldness with which they euphemistically talked about killing, and the apparent emphasis on how much money could be made from selling the skins.  I’ve no doubt that alligators must be suffering tremendously from these hunts, especially by first-time, amateur and untrained hunters.

You can learn more by watching the video at “Statewide Alligator Harvest Training Video,” at

As I was standing outside with my signs, I began to think about it:

Anglers actually cause alligators to become a “nuisance” by throwing fish or bait back into lakes. Alligators think of people as a food source. The gators suffer most.  Nuisance gators are rounded up and killed.

Alligator hunting is very dangerous!  It’s amazing that children are encouraged to participate.  Licensing is mandatory, but TRAINING IS OPTIONAL, and this training session consisted of a short talk and video (which focused on processing), without any hands-on training or tests.  How many of these amateurs will have an accurate shot that kills the gator quickly?

If the spinal cord is severed before the gator is dead, then he will be unconscious but still alive and suffering.  What happens to gators who are harpooned but manage to swim away?  They die a slow and painful death, no doubt.

How good can FWC enforcement be in remote areas in the middle of the night?   The state rep went over some intricate rules about what unlicensed partners in the boat can and can’t do.  Are we supposed to believe that this is enforced in any way?

I urge you to speak up for “gators” whenever you have the opportunity.

Joan Lyons is with Florida Voices for Animals and is an activist for vegetarianism.


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