Gator hunters -- Alligator hunters say industry is profitable

BERWICK, La. — Real gator hunting may not actually be the way it’s portrayed on TV with all the dramatic scenes, but, for some locals, it really is a way of life.

Peanut Michel, 44, of Morgan City, and Allen Gros, 42, of Bayou Vista, hunt alligators in the marshes south of Berwick and on the coast around Shell Island. The season opened Sept. 4 and ends Oct. 4. That leaves a brief window for hunters to “tag out.”

Michel and Gros have about 300 tags for the one-month season to hunt alligators and go out every day during the season.

Michel fishes and hunts for crawfish, crabs, gators and nutria full-time. Gros has gator hunted with Michel for several years and is also a commercial fisherman. The number of commercial fishermen and gator hunters is still strong in the region, Michel said.

The hardest thing about alligator hunting is keeping alligator tags because of competitors offering landowners more money to lease their land to hunt alligators, Michel said.

Michel said gator hunting is the most profitable thing he does and is a lot of fun. “I like to get to meet new people,” Michel said. He took two groups of people from Texas and one from Arizona alligator hunting this season.

Michel and Gros hunt gators for three or four different property owners who get a percentage of the sale of the gators, Michel said. He also checks on the property for the landowners. Michel hunts nutria on the property as well.

Michel can get about $400 for a 10-foot gator, but the price drops significantly for smaller gators. The price range hunters can get for gators goes from $15 to $40 per foot. “Anything over 9-foot is $40 a foot,” Michel said.

Prices are up about 20 percent compared to last year due to the meat demand, Michel said.

Michel and Gros finished the day with 13 gators Wednesday after about seven hours on the water.

They started setting out their baits Sunday for Wednesday’s hunt. Hunters hang their lines with a hook on the end of a tree branch with the bait about 8 to 10 inches above the water, or tie the line to a branch and set it on the banks of the waterways. Michel normally catches bigger gators when he puts the bait on the bank.

Anything that is rotten makes good bait because of the smell, Michel said. Nutria, beef and carp are some of the baits he uses.

Where Michel and Gros set out their baits depends on which direction the tides are coming from.

Gros uses a .22-caliber Magnum rifle to kill the gators, and normally one shot to the head is enough to finish off a gator if he hits it in the right spot, Michel said. Ammunition has been extremely difficult to get since 2013, Michel said. “No one can explain why the ammunition is so hard to get,” Michel said.

Michel and Gros launched their boat in Berwick Wednesday and went all the way to the Calumet Cut. Michel said they usually travel about 40 miles during a day of hunting alligators.

All but one of the gators Michel and Gros caught Wednesday were caught on their hooks. Gros spotted a more than 10-foot long gator in the middle of the water that he and Michel suspected had just attacked one of the gators on their lines.

He took several shots at it, and they were finally able to haul it in the boat after about 10 minutes by tying a rope to its foot. The gator was 10 feet, 4 inches long and weighed probably around 225 pounds, Michel said.

Michel uses a 22-foot flat-bottom skiff boat to navigate his way through the waterways and over the top of the vegetation when hunting gators.

Michel said most of the gators they catch are caught on lines not just out in the open water.

Michel sells the whole gators to Crappell’s Fish Market in Berwick, which acts as a “middleman,” who then sells the gators to American Tannery to process the entire alligator, Michel said. The skin on the sides of alligators is the most valuable and is used for making items such as purses, Michel said.

As of Wednesday, Michel and Gros had about 35 tags left for the season and were planning to finish their limit by the end of the week, Michel said.

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