Buyers offer $10,000 bounties for biggest gators
MORGAN CITY, La. — With wild alligator season opening on Wednesday, a pair of area wholesalers are offering a $10,000 bounty for the largest alligator caught and sold at their business.
America Tanning and Leather LLC, a Georgia-based company operating near St. Martinville, is repeating a bounty program it first held in 2007 and Golden Ranch Farms in Gibson will be holding its first such program, representatives from each company said Monday.
Company president and managing member Chris Plotts said America Tanning gave Randy Daigle of Breaux Bridge $5,000 six years ago in its first contest, which he said increased incentive and interest in alligator hunting that year.
Tim Domangue, manager of Golden Ranch Farms, said hunters across south Louisiana sell their alligator carcasses there, including some of the hunters from the reality television show, Swamp People.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries issues alligator harvest tags. An alligator hunter must either own land or have permission to hunt alligators on land that qualifies for alligator harvest tags.
Both men stipulate, to be considered for the top-alligator prize money, hunters must sell all of their wild alligators at the respective facilities. This is verified by the hunters bringing them all their state-issued alligator tags that were used.
Local hunter Sidney “Peanut” Michel said last year was one of his best years hunting in the 16 years he has been awarded alligators tags. He said he caught a lot of 9- and 10-foot alligators along with his biggest ever catch, measuring 11 feet 9 inches. The average length was about 7 and a half feet, he said.
“Last year we had low water and the alligators came out of the marsh,” Michel said. “This year the river is higher so the big alligators will probably be staying in the marsh.”
He is expecting more alligators and a slightly higher price this year than last and has increased his 240 tags from last year to 300 this year.
Michel plans to bait his lines today in preparation for the season’s opening. His goal is to catch 25 to 30 alligators a day. One day last year he caught 35.
Domangue said the first 10 days of the season are usually the busiest as hunters rush to catch their allotted share of alligators. Golden Ranch Farms has been operating since 1979 and buys about 4,000 to 5,000 alligators each year during the wild alligator season, he said.
Last year’s prices were about $30 per foot, for alligators at least 9 feet long, with the price less for smaller alligators. Golden Ranch Farms sells the entire alligator carcass overseas for its meat and hide, Domangue said.
The Gibson farm also harvests about 8,000 to 10,000 farm-raised alligators a year, Domangue said. These are raised from eggs taken from the marshes. The alligators go to market once they are about 4-feet long. Per state regulations, 12 percent of the hatched alligators are returned to the marsh.
Plotts said America Tanning purchases about 7,000 wild alligators along with some farm-raised ones at its Louisiana facility which are shipped to its main facility about 30 miles north of Atlanta. The facility processes about 30,000 alligators annually from the six Gulf states and South Carolina at one of the few remaining tanneries in the United States, he said.
Louisiana is divided into east and west alligator hunting zones. Each zone has specific opening and closing dates. The east zone opens the last Wednesday of August and the west zone opens the first Wednesday of September.
The west zone opens on Sept. 4. Each side will have a 30-day season.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries manages alligators as a commercial, renewable natural resource. The Wildlife and Fisheries web site said since the inception of the department’s wild harvest program in 1972, over 850,000 wild alligators have been harvested and sold, bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to landowners and trappers.
Baited hooks and lines may be set no more than 24 hours prior to the general open season and shall be removed no later than sunset of the last day of the open season.
Alligators may be harvested between official sunrise and sunset only. Alligators may be harvested by hook and line, bow and arrow and firearms (except shotguns).