First Texas Spring Alligator Season Opens April 1
For the first year in "non-core" counties outside historical alligator habitat in southeast Texas, a spring alligator hunting season will run April 1-June 30. The new regulation comes as people continue to move into alligator habitat across Texas, and state biologists try to provide more hunting opportunity and another means to proactively manage conflicts between people and alligators.
Some public confusion has emerged around the new spring hunting season, which has a two-fold purpose, according to Jim Sutherlin with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He works with the state’s top alligator biologists as manager of the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area near Port Arthur and helps set Texas alligator management and hunting regulations.
"The intent of the new spring season is partly to provide additional hunter opportunity and second to proactively reduce conflicts between alligators and people," Sutherlin said. "We're trying to be more proactive in managing Texas alligators. There are a couple of non-core counties that do have high potential for alligators, such as Harris and Fort Bend, and these are areas where we have had an increasing number of nuisance alligator reports in recent years. Our agency continues to emphasize public education as a primary way to minimize human-alligator conflicts."
For decades, Texas alligator hunting has been carefully regulated in the southeastern "core counties" of Angelina, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler and Victoria. In these 22 core counties, the traditional fall alligator season continues, running Sep. 10-30. The number of alligators taken in core counties is controlled by alligator hide tags issued to private landowners, based on annual surveys conducted by state biologists. Hunters who take an alligator in core counties must immediately attach one of these tags to the hide.
This year for the first time, in the 232 non-core counties of Texas outside the 22 southeastern core counties, a spring alligator hunting season will run April 1-June 30. Spring hunters may take one alligator per licensed person during this time frame, and only on private property. Within 72 hours, hunters in non-core counties must complete an Alligator Hide Tag Report Form and mail it to TPWD headquarters in Austin along with a $20 hide tag fee. Report forms are available at TPWD Law Enforcement offices and in the TPWD Outdoor Annual available wherever hunting licenses are sold.
There are also some "special properties" within the non-core counties where core county regulations are in effect. In these areas, landowners can have TPWD biologists survey alligator habitat and populations and issue hide tags as they do in the core counties, and these properties must then conduct harvest according to the core county regs.
Rules for spring alligator hunting in or around water have generated particular confusion. Hunting an alligator on private property or private water is legal with the consent of the landowner or landowner's agent. It is illegal to use a firearm to shoot a free-swimming alligator in public water. However, with landowner consent hunters may anchor a hook and line on private property and place the line in public water, then use a firearm to dispatch the alligator after it is caught. Private water includes ponds and stock tanks surrounded on all sides by private land. Public water includes large public reservoirs or lakes and navigable streams such as rivers and bayous.
Anyone hunting alligators in Texas must possess a valid hunting license and all alligators must be tagged.
As Texas residents expand their homes and businesses into alligator country, encounters between these normally shy reptiles and people have increased. Late spring through summer is alligator mating and nesting season, when gators are more likely to be visible.
In recent years, there's been a steady rise in alligator complaints in southeast Texas in and around Houston and Conroe, many of which are not true "nuisance" alligators. The situation is driven in large part by expanding human development, with roads and housing subdivisions moving into alligator wetland habitat.
In Texas, no fatalities have been documented due to alligators. In the past two decades, there have been fewer than 20 injuries due to alligators reported to TPWD statewide, none life threatening.
In 1969, a state law that preceded the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 protected the alligator in Texas. A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies in the south brought the alligator back, allowing it to rebound in many areas where it had been depleted by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. The alligator was removed from the endangered list in the 1980s. Since 1984, sustainable hunting has been allowed in Texas and Louisiana.
In October 2003, it became a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $25 to $500 for any person who intentionally feeds a free-ranging alligator. Use of bait for legal hunting by licensed hunters or nuisance alligator control hunters is not interpreted as feeding.
Alligator experts say the most important rule for the public is to never feed an alligator or allow it to get food. Once an alligator loses its natural fear of people it must typically be killed, since if relocated it would only seek people to find food and become a problem somewhere else.
Biologists emphasize that people who may hunt alligators for the first time in the new spring season should think in advance about how to care for the alligator after harvest. Skinning should take place as soon as practical. Alligators are cold blooded reptiles and don't need to be field dressed like some other popular game animals. But hunters should avoid direct sun or heat on the carcass or skin if possible. The decision about what to do with the hide determines the skinning process. Biologists strongly recommend that hunters consult with a taxidermist early on.
More helpful details are in the TPWD brochure "Alligators in Texas," which contains complete regulations for recreational hunting and commercial harvest, plus alligator skinning tips, cooking recipes, forms and other information. This brochure and the required Alligator Hide Tag Report Form for spring hunting are available as .pdf files on the TPWD Web site. Also online are public safety tips for Living with Alligators, alligator research reports and basic natural history. To request copies of alligator brochures or hunting report forms by mail, phone the Texas Wildlife Information Hotline at (512) 389-4505.