S.C. hunters bag gators

The gators have been skinned and the stories swapped at Cordray's Venison Processing, wrapping up South Carolina's first alligator hunting season since 1964.

At the small warehouse in Ravenel, not far from the swamps around Charleston, about 60 hunters have brought in their quarry to have the meat harvested and the hides stuffed for trophies.

“It's been pretty interesting in here the past month,” owner Michael Cordray said Tuesday. “We've heard a lot of tales.”

About 190 of the 800 or so hunters who were given permits to hunt one alligator each have reported a kill for the monthlong season that ended Saturday, said Jay Butfiloski, alligator project coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources.

The haul was close to the 25 percent success rate Butfiloski expected. And while tracking alligators in dismal swamps in the moonlight might seem dangerous, Butfiloski said no injuries have been reported for the season.

That may be partly because gator hunting is different now.

In the old days, hunters would head out into swamps at night, shine a light and shoot whatever moved. Today, gator hunters have to restrain the animal and pull it to the boat before killing it, usually with a gunshot to the head. The novelty brought out a lot of hunters who were used to tracking weaker animals, like deer, Cordray said.

“It's a lot of work to get that huge animal to where they kill it,” Cordray said. “You can sit in a tree stand, shoot a deer, load it on your four-wheeler and go, versus spending three hours fighting an alligator on the line so you can secure it and shoot it in the head.”

In the 1960s, the number of alligators had dwindled so much that hunting them was banned.

Alligators have surged back, and the state decided to allow hunting again after the population stabilized at around 100,000.

The last month has been like Christmas at the mall for Cordray and his workers. It's already the height of deer hunting season, and they've had to add tough-hided gators to the workload. Cordray said workers can do 10 to 15 deer in the time it takes to do one gator.