Bowhunting Alligators

By Davie FerraroJuly 25, 2013

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

There is something so fascinating about the American Alligator. It is a big game animal hunted today that still resembles characteristics of the pre-historic. From their ever-powerful tail to their big sharp teeth, gators are sure to top one of your most unique bow hunts. The American Alligator was once placed on the endangered list in 1973, but with proper conservation efforts, they were taken off the list in 1987. They are now flourishing and widely hunted throughout the southeastern United States.  Television shows such as Swamp People have increased the popularity of alligators and the sport of gator hunting.

Gators On Your Own
The first step to capturing this beast is to apply for your gator tags. Each state has different regulations, so check with the state’s Division of Natural Resources in which you will be hunting for how and when to apply. Also, it is the responsibility of you as the hunter, to understand and implement the legal techniques for harvesting a gator. Not adhering to the laws could result in costly fines and jail time.

Get Ready
Forget about being as still as possible covered from head to toe in your favorite camouflage, or washing your clothes in odor destroying detergent and spraying down with scent elimination. There is no need to take into consideration wind direction either. In other words, a lot of the pressure we bow hunters put upon ourselves to close the distance on big game land animals has been lifted… you would think! Gator hunting with a bow has its challenges just like any other hunt. Most gator hunts typically go like this: you cruise around looking for gators on a flat-bottom boat or an airboat, which if you have never done, you are in for a treat. You spot the gator you want to harvest, harpoon it using your bow, pull him in, and use either a bang stick or a broad head to expire the gator. Sounds easy right?

The Hunt
In order to spot the gators, your guide or another person uses a q-beam to spot their eyes. A typical hunter’s idea of a trophy, “bigger is better”, so you determine the size of the gator by the separation between their eyes; the bigger the separation, the larger the gator. Once you, as the hunter decide to take a shot, the driver eases up to the gator with the light directly fixated on the gator’s eyes as you draw your bow. Your goal now is simply to put the harpoon in the gator. As with any other game animal hunted, shot placement is key! Avoid harpooning the gator in the head and focus in on the back or body of the gator to ensure good penetration. Once you stick the gator with a harpoon, now the excitement really begins.


Alligators make for an unusual target but are exciting to pursue with a bow and arrow.

The Bow Rig
Your setup is as follows: the arrow you will use is much heavier and longer than an arrow you hunt with. Attached at the end of your arrow is not a broad head, but a harpoon, and attached to the harpoon is a long nylon string which is tied to a buoy. How does it work? The most important aspect is to always watch the string to make sure it does not get tangled. As you draw, the string should have no slack. It will run through your rest and attach close to the knock of the arrow. As you squeeze off your release, the arrow along with the long string goes into flight. Once the gator is hit by the harpoon, the gator will swim off taking the long line of nylon and the buoy attached. As you let the gator swim off, make sure you follow the buoy. As you ease up to the buoy, grab the nylon string attached and slowly pull in the gator. If you are using your bow, knock an arrow and broad head you would normally use to hunt and be ready to draw. If you are using a bang stick, load it with a bullet and get ready. Aim for just behind the head as this will be a fatal shot. And last but not least, make sure the gator is dead and tape its mouth using electrical tape prior to pulling the gator in the boat.


Hunting these pre-historic creatures is a favorite activity for the author and his dad (pictured here).

Important Tips
First and foremost, be patient. It may take all night before you get the opportunity on a gator you want to harvest. Pay attention to the gator’s positioning prior to making the shot with the harpoon. If the gator is still, the body will be way below the head at the surface, so aim accordingly. From experience, the easiest shot to make is when the gator is swimming. Make sure the driver of the boat gets behind the gator. Since the arrow you are using is much heavier, your pins will not be accurate, so aim a little high and line your pins up on the gator’s back. When using a bang stick, make sure the gator is just beneath the surface, unless you want to wear gator goulash. Avoid hunting gators with a full moon because they will more than likely see you and submerge themselves prior to you locating them. Stay out of the light of the q-beam. If you interrupt the light casting upon the gator, the gator may spot you. Don’t get discouraged if you miss. Knock another arrow and keep hunting. 

Hunting gators with a bow is a hunt unlike any other. Be ready for some action and challenges in a way you have never been challenged. It can all happen in a flash, so keep your eyes peeled. Keep your eyes on the prize and may your journey of gator hunting be successful with some fresh all-natural gator tail. As always, Hunt Strong and enjoy the experience.

Davie Ferraro
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