Although the season doesn't start until August, it's time to register if you're interested in this year's alligator harvest.
The three-phase application process for the statewide alligator harvest program began this week. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will dole out more than 5,000 permits for the program, which started in 1988.
The 11-week season begins Aug. 15 and ends Nov. 1. It includes four harvest periods. Each hunter will be awarded a specific body of water for their harvest period.
Several bodies of water close to home will offer a fair amount of permits. Three in northern Marion and southeastern Alachua counties — Rodman Reservoir (89 projected number of permits), Orange Lake (107) and Lochloosa Lake (49) — are usually popular destinations. In southeastern Marion County, bordering Citrus County, Lake Rousseau should offer around 29 permits, while the Withlacoochee River projects two permits. Lake George on the eastern edge of the county will project about 93 permits.
The heaviest alligator on record was caught as a nuisance gator in our own backyard back in 1989. It was caught in Orange Lake and weighed 1,043 pounds. The state record for length is 14 feet, 3½ inches. It was caught in 2010 and weighed 654 pounds.
Hunters, who have to be 18 by opening day, must submit an application by May 12 at any tax collector's office or online at www.license.myfwc.com in order to be included in a random drawing for phase one. Applicants can only be drawn for one permit.
If drawn, the hunter will have to pay the cost of the permit — $272 for state residents and $1,022 for non-residents — by June 3. If the permit is not paid by then, the applicant goes back into the pool for phase two, which is a first-come, first serve process June 7 through June 12.
People who are chosen and pay for a permit in phase one are not eligible to apply for another in phase two.
Phase three starts June 14 until the remaining permits are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone is eligible during phase three. If a hunter happens to get a second permit in phase three, the cost for that is $62 for state and out-of-state residents.
Hunters can take two alligators with each permit. A general Florida hunting license is not needed to participate in the alligator hunt.