More applications than ever are expected this year for the state's 1,200 alligator hunting permits as the June 15 deadline to apply approaches.
Since the September gator hunting season reopened in 2008, the number of applicants to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has steadily increased to reach nearly 5,000 potential hunters this year, public draw hunt coordinator Patty Castine said.
That's more than 1,000 over last year's total.
"It's got to be the television shows," Castine said, referring to programs such as History channel's Swamp People.
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A computerized drawing decides who gets to participate, with hunters who didn't bag an alligator last year awarded preference points to help their chances of getting picked again.
Hunters killed 473 alligators last season out of a state population of 100,000, according to a DNR press release. The biggest gator bagged was 13 feet, 7 inches, Castine said.
Each person can take home one gator after reporting the kill to DNR.
Most of the applicants are South Carolinians but the estimated 3 percent from out-of-state come from as far away as Canada, Castine said.
State residents pay $500 for the permit.
Nonresidents pay $800 plus a $200 fee.
DNR says the season that runs through October doesn't threaten the species, but the practice is not without opponents.
Even though rules state hunters must secure the gators with approved equipment and bring them boatside or onto land before "dispatching" them, Critter Management owner Joe Maffo said he's heard stories of inexperienced hunters shooting female gators protecting their brood or bull gators up to 18 times.
"I realize the state needs to generate the revenue, but there's not enough checks and balances ... to keep an eye on everybody," Maffo said.