Alligators and crocodiles are one of the oldest creatures on this planet – they evolved as far back as 60 million years ago, and the fossils of their immediate ancestors date back to 220,000,000 b.c. These reptiles are wonderfully adapted to their environment, and perform an essential ecological function. They are similar in many ways, but are unique in others. There are many texts on the Internet that describe the differences between them – but most of these are written for the ‘general public’. How do crocodiles and alligators differ from a hunter’s perspective?
But before we approach the hunting side of the deal, let’s briefly go through the general differences. The most conspicuous difference between alligators and crocodiles is the shape of the snout: alligators have a more rounded U-shaped head, while the crocodile’s head is more pointed and V-shaped. The alligator’s lips can cover its teeth completely when the mouth is closed, while the crocodile’s lips always show in a “toothy smile”. The alligator can swim almost twice as fast as the crocodile, however, on dry ground the crocodile can gallop while the alligator can’t. The American Alligator is much smaller than the Nile Crocodile, and much less aggressive towards people. Only about one fatal attack on humans in three years is recorded in North America, while the body count in Africa goes into hundreds.
Where to Hunt Them
Literally millions of alligators dwell in the freshwater coastal rivers, lakes and marshes of the South-Eastern USA. The American alligator hunting heaven is, without a doubt, Florida; however, alligator hunting is also possible in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Mississippi. In fact, the great river gave the alligator its scientific name: Alligator mississippiensis. Another species of alligator exists in South-East Asia, but it is critically endangered.
The Nile Crocodile is hardly ever found in the River Nile these days, but its range covers much of Southern and Eastern Africa, with hunting opportunities existing from South Africa to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia. There are crocodiles in America, too, but their numbers are much smaller than the alligators. In fact, the American Crocodile is endangered, and for that reason the American Alligator is on the federally protected species list as well. The reason is that they look too much like each other, and uncontrolled hunting for the Alligator may lead to high numbers of unintentionally killed crocs.
For that reason the American Alligator is on the CITES Appendix, and a hunter requires a tag and a CITES permit for the trophy. In a similar manner, while the Nile Crocodile is listed as Least Concern, some of its populations are included in the Appendix I or Appendix II of the CITES, requiring a permit for trophy export.
Alligator hunting is usually priced on a daily rate + trophy fee basis. The daily rate starts from $500, and typically includes the use of the vehicles and gear necessary for alligator hunting (bows and crossbows, harpoons, bangsticks, swamp buggies and air boats, etc.). The trophy fee depends on the size of the ‘gator. It may vary greatly from outfitter to outfitter, but a rough rule of thumb is $500 for the reptile 7 feet or smaller, and $500 for each foot over that. Overall, harvesting a really impressive trophy will bottom-line at about $3,000-$5,000.
The most affordable Crocodile hunting opportunities are to be found in South Africa, where you can find a hunt in the $4,000-$7,000 range. However, the size of the trophies doesn’t often exceed 10-12 feet (3-3.5 meters), which is rather mediocre for the species that can get over 18 feet (5 meters) in length. Hunting opportunities in locations where spectacular trophies can be killed will cost from $8,000 to $10,000.
The difference in alligator hunting and crocodile hunting methods can be even more significant than the shape of the muzzle or even size.
There are three main methods for crocodile hunting in Africa. By far the most popular, especially among the trophy hunters, is waiting in a blind over bait. The bait is so positioned that the crocodile has to get out of the water to get it. This simplifies trophy estimation, while known shooting distances and a convenient position make a precise shot easier. Therefore, the chances of the reptile’s escaping with a mortal wound are much lower.
The alternative methods, for people who prefer more activity and an element of risk, are stalking from the shore or approach in mokoro, a kind of African dugout canoe. All of these methods, as you see, rely on the hunter’s marksmanship and long shots with a powerful rifle (read more about crocodile and crocodile hunting here). In the USA it’s not quite the same.
Alligator hunting in the United States is strictly regulated, especially as concerns limited draw hunts on public lands. It is usually illegal to kill an alligator unless you catch the reptile first. Rifles and shotguns are usually a no-no, in most states you can’t even have one in the boat when alligator hunting. Only handguns or bangsticks are legal to kill alligator with (a bangstick is just what the name suggests: a type of single-shot firearm that is secured to a rod and discharges point-blank from contact with the target).
As the result, the hunt itself sometimes looks more like fishing. Most states require the hunter to capture the alligator before killing the reptile. This is done with the help of harpunes. Often, the hunter starts with shooting a light harpoon with a string from a bow or crossbow, and then, having fought the reptile within spear throwing range, use a heavier hand-thrown harpoon with a stronger line. Hunters might fight the strong and actively resisting reptile for hours before they bring it near their boat. Then the alligator is dispatched with a handgun or bangstick.
However, in some states (for example, South Carolina) it is legal to hunt alligators in African style, by stalking or baiting and killing them with rifles. This is possible only on private land and on special tags, and sparks some controversy. Quite a few people believe it’s not fair for public land hunters, who can’t do the same. Others are concerned about the environmental aspect of the practice. Since it’s not always easy to tell a hit from a miss, and a light wound from a lethal one, overharvest may result when hunters assume the ‘gator is missed and kill another, while in fact the reptile dies from the wound.
Alligators and crocodiles stir a lot of emotions in humans, mostly negative: reptiles are not creatures we find easy to associate with. The feeling is not mutual: the reptile brain has not developed the parts that are responsible for complex emotions, making the creatures quite literally cold-blooded killing machines. Hunting helps maintain fear of humans, and thus reduces the likelihood of conflicts, and deep in Africa it has a conservation significance – the crocs that are a valuable economic commodity are much easier to live next to than crocs that are only a constant danger.
If you want to hunt one of these reptiles, the choice might be difficult. The Nile Crocodile offers a bit more of an adventure, a higher level of danger, and a bit of a thrill in knowing you are probably hunting a man-eater (it’s said that any crock over 15 feet has almost definitely tasted human flesh). On the other hand, if you add the cost of travelling to Africa, and the nearly irresistible temptation of adding a few more trophies to your safari, the American Alligator hunting sure has an edge in affordability.
The difference in hunting rules and practices is the direct result from difference in conditions. It would perhaps require an electric winch mounted on a whale boat to reel in a 15-feet Nile Crocodile. Therefore, harpooning on the Zambezi River will not be practical, leaving the rifle the only possible method. On the other hand, there are good reason not to shoot alligators with rifles on public land in the USA. In addition to the concerns voiced above, there are some safety issues: rifle bullets easily ricochet from water, and may easily hit an unintended target in a crowded area. All in all, it all comes down to taste.