Gator attacks on humans remain rare in Georgia

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One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people who don’t fish or hunt sometimes have a hard time understanding those of us who do.

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Even while recuperating from a knee injury, North Augusta's Cody Turner (second from right) found time to fill the 2012 Georgia Zone 9 gator tag he had drawn for this season. Along with his brother, Ben Turner (left), and father, Stan Turner (right), they caught this 11-foot gator - estimated at 600 pounds - in a Richmond County swamp.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Even while recuperating from a knee injury, North Augusta's Cody Turner (second from right) found time to fill the 2012 Georgia Zone 9 gator tag he had drawn for this season. Along with his brother, Ben Turner (left), and father, Stan Turner (right), they caught this 11-foot gator - estimated at 600 pounds - in a Richmond County swamp.

That void is particularly wide this time of year, when Georgia’s alligator season is under way.

“Why would they even have an alligator season?” a friend asked me. “More people will just get eaten.”

Georgia has had a gator season only since 2003, when 184 permits were issued. The number has risen gradually to 850 tags, which yield an average harvest of about 200 gators.

The limited harvest is designed to offer a recreational opportunity while keeping the gator population stable.

The question most often asked, though, is whether allowing hunters to chase and kill gators creates more incidents and gator attacks.

I asked Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources for records of such incidents – which are quite rare.

In the past 40 years, just one fatality has been documented in Georgia. The 2007 case involved an elderly woman whose body was found in a lagoon at Skidaway Island, near Savannah. The attack was unrelated to hunting activity.

Since 1980, state authorities have recorded eight gator incidents that caused injuries to humans, but none were related to hunting.

Another incident occurred in Lake Seminole in June 2000, when a man walking in 4-foot-deep water was towing a broken down boat to shore. He apparently stepped on a submerged gator, which bit him on the thigh.

Other non-fatal incidents included a 14-year-old boy who was having a “mud fight” with friends and was bitten as he reached into a Glynn County creek to get more mud; a Jekyll Island golfer bitten on the hand while retrieving a golf ball in 1994; and a 1994 incident on Ossabaw Island when a man was attacked by a 10-foot gator and escaped by gouging the animal’s eyes until he was released. Authorities later said he had been mistaken for a feral hog or deer.

Since Georgia’s gator season was created, not a single injury or incident has been reported, in part because hunters are offered courses and instruction on how to pursue such an unusual game, which must be taken with arrows, snares or harpoons – to make sure they can be recovered, and not simply killed.

It might be easy to debate whether gator hunting is a safe sport, but there is no question about its growing popularity.

This year, state officials processed 11,429 applications for the 850 available tags.

LAND TRUST RIVER BASH: One of the year’s best parties for outdoor folks is coming up Thursday, when the Central Savannah River Land Trust will play host to its eighth annual “Bash on the Banks” to raise money for its greenspace preservation programs.

The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The River Place, Old Plantation Road, atop a protected bluff along the Savannah River’s North Augusta side. This year’s event includes music by Nashville country-rock band Truth & Salvage Company, an oyster roast and low country boil by T’s restaurant, cash bar and raffle prizes donated by Sidney’s, Windsor Jewelers, Rivers & Glen and others.

The public is welcome. Tickets are $40 and will be on sale at the door or can be purchased in advance. Shuttle service is available from Surrey Center.

For more details contact the Central Savannah River Land Trust at info@csrlt.org.

NWTF FISHING: Sean Anderson, of Saluda, S.C., and George Berry, of Batesburg-Leesville, S.C., claimed the $5,000 first prize at last weekend’s National Wild Turkey Federation Bass Bonanza at Wildwood Park.

“I’ve won several tournaments, but nothing big like this before,” Berry said.

Anderson won a boat last year at a tournament on Lake Greenwood.

The five bass Anderson and Berry counted weighed 23.32 pounds, giving them a comfortable edge over second-place winners Duane Houk and Kevin McKee, of Martinez, who brought in 19.38 pounds. Robin Whisenant, of Aiken, and Stewart Gambrell, of North Augusta, were third with 17.68.

Scott Collins, of Hephzibah, and Ross Maruca, of Rincon, Ga., won the biggest fish competition by landing a 7.66-pounder. Robby Robinson of Appling, and Mason Miller landed the second-biggest fish, 6.12 pounds.


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