Chomp, chomp! Alligator season begins at the end of the month

Alligator hunting season continues to grow in the state of Mississippi.

The 10-day season for public water begins at noon Aug. 25 and ends at noon Sept. 4. The private-lands hunting season starts at noon Aug. 25 and ends at 6 a.m. Sept. 18.

Alligators are found across the state, especially south of U.S. 82. The state has divided the public waters for alligator hunting into seven zones, which cover the state.

Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, George, Pearl River and Stone counties are in the Southeast zone.

According to a Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks survey, the state had a strong harvest year, although not as big as the record-setting 2015.

In 2016, 784 alligators were harvested on public waters and 558 of 807 hunters harvested one. The survey also revealed most hunters enjoyed the season, resulting in 17,592 total hours spent hunting the gators.

The Southwest zone caught the most alligators at 203, followed by the West central zone at 201. The Southeast zone was third with 126 alligators caught.

Two years ago, a record 982 alligators were harvested on public waters and 693 of 997 hunters harvested one. The West central zone caught a state-best 285 alligators, southwest at 270 and southeast with 140.

MDWFP Alligator Program coordinator Ricky Flynt expects another strong season.

“River conditions this year should be very favorable for alligator hunters,” Flynt said. “Rainfall throughout the summer, even as we speak, has been way above average, which results in most river gauges being higher than what is typical for this time of year. Higher river levels allows hunters to navigate more easily along more territory on the public waterways. Even the Mississippi River, which is a heavy influence on waterways in the Southwest Zone, West Central Zone and Northwest Zone, is predicted to be at normal levels going into the season opening weekend.

“This can result in hunters finding it easier to encounter more alligators and it also allows hunting parties to scatter out more, which produces a higher quality hunting experience. In years of drought or low water levels, hunters can become concentrated on waterways were access may be limited. However, extremely high water level conditions can reduce hunter success. When water levels approach full bank or more, alligators will usually be found farther back in vegetation and timber rather than in open water, making spotting and catching alligators much more difficult.”

Only one record was set last year, compared to five in 2015.

An alligator, taken by the hunting party of Tiffany Wienke of Vicksburg, measured 13 feet 7  7/8 inches, beating the previous record by 1/8 inch. The alligator weighed 686 pounds, had a belly girth of 59 inches and a tail girth of 43 inches. The Wienke hunting party harvested the alligator near the Mississippi River in Bayou Pierre in the southwest zone.

For each possession permit, the bag limit is two alligators at least four feet in length or longer. Only one of them can exceed seven feet in total length per permit.

The private-lands season is available to landowners whose properties meet specific qualifications within 31 open counties, including Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Pearl River counties.

James Jones: 228-896-2320, @_jkjones