With the state's seventh annual alligator hunting season around the corner, some animal experts are asking if it is time to slow the harvest.
Last year, hunters in South Carolina took 452 alligators during the public hunting season, including 24 from Beaufort County and three from Jasper County, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Statewide, the animals were an average of 8 1/2 feet long.
For the past few years, the department has issued 300 permits in each of the state's four hunting zones, and a spokesman said that number is likely to be used this year. However, with open season slowly decreasing the number of large, older gators, hunting guide Brad Taylor said he wants the department to consider issuing fewer permits.
"Last year was biologically the first year we've seen a drastic effect," said Taylor, who owns Camp Barstow-based hunting and fishing guide company Taylor Outdoors, which conducts alligator hunting tours statewide. "We know we have harvested a lot of large animals."
Many of the large, problem alligators that inspired the hunt six years ago have been removed, he said, and the demand for alligator hunting might wane as the novelty of TV shows featuring the sport wears off.
"(The History Channel's 'Swamp People') made it look glamorous and people just got into it," Taylor said. "I think hunting on public water will be here for years to come, but I think the appeal that grabs your eye is going to fizzle out."
The number of gators taken locally varies each year.
In Beaufort County, hunters took 27 gators in 2012 and 20 in 2011, according to the department.
In Jasper County, they took six in 2012 and 11 the previous year.
A department spokesman said the number of permits will be known closer to the start of the season Sept. 13. The deadline for hunters to apply is June 15.
The fees -- $100 for the public lands hunt, and $500 for residents and $800 for nonresidents for the wildlife management areas alligator hunt -- help support the Alligator Management Program's research, management and conservation activities, including the purchase of transmitters to track the movements of individual gators, according to the department.
Because of those activities, many locals accept the hunting season with some resignation.
The animals help maintain a balance in the ecosystem, though some animals do need to be culled, said Joe Maffo, owner of Critter Management.
"I love the animals and they are important in their realm, but we can't have them all," Maffo said. "As far as the hunt goes, I don't agree with it."
Maffo said people often contribute to creating "problem gators" by tossing food their way. Sometimes it's inadvertent, such as fishing in a lagoon and throwing the catch back, he said. Often, people purposefully entice the animals to get a closer look.
"God gave him a fear to stay away from man," Maffo said. "You bring that gator to a shore's edge to get a better picture, he can't live with people anymore."
Maffo said he still receives calls from Beaufort County residents in need of an alligator wrangler, especially this time of year, when the animals are on the prowl for mates, he said.
The creatures have been getting smaller, though.
The hunting season has slimmed the herd some, Maffo said. Mostly, the remaining gators -- some of them more than 40 years old -- are simply more elusive.
"They don't get that big being stupid," Maffo said.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
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