Rob writes a weekly outdoors column and covers energy, environmental and nuclear issues (and lots of other topics) for the metro section. He has been an avid angler and hunter ever since he realized he had neither the aptitude nor the desire to take up golf. He has been a full-time journalist for 28 years, including 11 years as bureau chief in Columbia County. Before joining The Chronicle, he worked at newspapers in Columbia, S.C., and West Palm Beach, Fla. He has edited or authored three reference books on antique fishing tackle; and his freelance work has appeared in Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal and Georgia Outdoor News. He lives in Evans.
Posted September 22, 2010 06:36 pm - Updated September 22, 2010 11:42 pm

Georgia's 2010 alligator season is a memorable one for local hunters

Augusta has its share of gator fans, and it has nothing to do with the Bulldogs' performance this season.

We're talking about real gators - the ones that live in the Savannah River and the vast swamps below Augusta.

Georgia's limited hunting season for the big reptiles opened earlier this month for hunters lucky enough to win one of the state's 850 coveted tags, of which only 60 are earmarked for Zone 9, which includes the Augusta area. In all, Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division received more than 6,000 applications.

One lucky group that landed a tag included Tye Key and companions Richard Welsh, Sean Burke, Andrew Poteet and Bill Welsh. They teamed up for a nocturnal bowhunt in Richmond County last Saturday night and brought home a 12-footer.

Equally lucky was Steve Gooding, whose name was drawn in the tag lottery. He teamed up with local archery experts Vince Robertson, Byron Gay and Robbie Robertson for a hunt in the lower Savannah River (many miles downstream from Augusta) that yielded a 10-foot, 3-inch gator estimated at more than 400 pounds.

Although there are plenty of alligators in the river, the big ones are rarely seen and difficult to kill.

This year marks the eighth season in which hunters have an opportunity to harvest alligators in Georgia, where a once-imperiled population is now estimated at more than 200,000.

Although gators must be at least four feet to be "legal," most hunters pass on the small ones in hopes of harvesting a larger animal. Consequently, the success rate of tag holders in the state has gradually fallen - from 40 percent during the inaugural 2003 hunt to less than 26 percent last year.

Augusta is on the fringe of the giant reptile's domain, but authorities are still called occasionally to remove or relocate nuisance gators that have turned up in places like the Augusta Canal, Riverwatch Parkway - and even Gordon Highway.

With this weekend's ESI Ironman 70.3 Augusta race looming, people might wonder if anyone needs to worry about alligators while swimming in the river near Augusta.

The answer would be no.  If there were any gators in that segment of the river, the clamor of 3,000 swimmers would likely send them many miles downstream.

Gator attacks are rare in Georgia. Since official recordkeeping began in the 1970s, Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division has recorded only eight incidents statewide and none were fatal.