Gator hunting season kicks off in the bay area

Hunting gators and conservation go hand in hand

LAKELAND, Fla. - Gator hunting season official kicked off Friday and many hunters are excited for a record-breaking season.

"I caught my first gator when I was seven or eight," said Phil Walters, a local legend in the gator hunting and trapping industry.

Walters and thousands of others now begin their quest for the next big one. It’s a battle against teeth and prehistoric strength.

"It’s addicting, it’s an adrenaline rush,” said Walters. “You get out there and see places you've never seen, at night you see a lot of creatures you don't normally see."

Over the next 10 weeks, 5,883 people will head out trying to land a trophy they can tell stories about for years.

"Let’s put it this way, I’ve seen some interesting things on charters,” said Walters. “Like the big burly guys wetting their pants when there's a gator at their feet trying to chomp the boat up."

Walters isn't the only one planning for a busy season.

"They can take advantage of our scale that we have high up in the air," said Kevin Coates.

Coates runs Tropic Star Seafood and expects thousands of pounds of gator meat to be brought in, packed and sold at his warehouse in Lakeland. The bigger the catch, the bigger the bounty.

"Every year we've doubled and I expect us to double again," said Coates.

"Potentially you could see 11,000 gators taken over the ten-week harvest period," said Florida Fish and Game official Garry Morse.

Morris says while the thrill of the hunt attracts thousands, it also pays dividends for conservation by providing crucial population data.

"It also helps determine the number of permits we issue the next year," said Morse.

Keeping both Walters and Coates in business for the foreseeable future.

"When people buy alligator leather or buy gator meat at their favorite restaurant, they're supporting our conservation efforts," said Walters.

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