Clearing up confusion on who gets tags, who doesn’t

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Last year’s largest alligator was taken at Lake Eufaula by, from left, Scott Evans, Jeff Gregg and Justin Gregg. --Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

Last year’s largest alligator was taken at Lake Eufaula by, from left, Scott Evans, Jeff Gregg and Justin Gregg. –Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

By David Rainer
Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

The old axiom that patience is a virtue is especially true for those who applied for an alligator tag for Alabama’s upcoming season.

Before 2014, getting picked in the random drawing was truly luck of the draw. In 2014, a preference points system was implemented, but it takes a little time before it influences who gets drawn.

Chris Nix, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Alligator Program Coordinator, said applicants who didn’t get picked this year are frustrated, but he insists that the current preference system just needs a little more time to work as designed.

“The big topic is the lack of clarity of the applications on the selection process,” Nix said. “They want to know why some people are getting tags, and why they’re not getting tags. It’s been a chore this year to explain how our preference points system works.”

The application process starts around the first of June each year and is open for about six weeks. Interested parties can apply one time in each of the four alligator zones. Once the application period ends, WFF officials start the selection process, which involves the preference points system. Those selected have seven days to log back into the same page on outdooralabama.com and confirm their selection.

“Everyone who applied gets one entry for the current year,” Nix said. “Everyone who has applied in previous years and did not receive a tag the prior year will receive preference points. The preference points are accumulated by the number of years you have consistently (without interruption) applied and not received a tag. That number of years is then cubed to give the number of preference points.

“Last year was the first so the most points they could have was one. It’s going to be another year or two before we start seeing the benefits of this. This year, the most points they could have is eight. But next year, it’ll be 27. We’re going to get there, but it’s going to take a little bit of patience. It grows quickly, which is the way we set it up.”

When the selection process starts, all applicants with preference points are separated from those applicants without preference points. When the drawing starts, 85 percent of the available tags will be pulled from applicants with preference points. The other 15 percent of the tags will go to those with no preference points. Those applicants who receive a tag will have all preference points erased.

“It skews odds in favor of people who have consistently applied and not received a tag,” Nix said. “But everyone has the opportunity to get a tag. Those 15 percent are going to go to people who have not applied before or received a tag last year. But because you received a tag last year doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to get one. We had some people who drew tags in back to back years.”

Nix has to explain to some people that although the preference points system is in place that sometimes it just comes down to the luck of the draw.

“When you pay that $22 administration fee, everyone has the opportunity,” he said. “Some people are lucky and some people aren’t. If I had every $5 I’ve spent on raffle tickets for a Yeti cooler, I could probably go buy three.”

Nix said one example of the luck of the draw is that Mandy Stokes, who caught the world-record alligator at 15 feet 9 inches and 1,011.5 pounds in 2014, did not get drawn this year, much to her chagrin.

Public interest has remained steady to increasing every year, according to Nix. Applications peaked the year after Stokes’ gator drew worldwide attention, coupled with the establishment of a separate zone for Lake Eufaula.

This year there were 3,845 applications for 260 tags statewide. There were 3,014 applications in 2014 and 4,137 in 2015.

Nix said Alabama alligator hunting has come a long way since the season opened in 2006. A total of 50 tags were distributed the first year in only one zone.

Three additional zones have been added since, and Nix said there could be more in the future.

The West Central Alabama Zone, where the Stokes gator was taken, includes the private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas Counties. Last year, hunters filled 25 tags. Hunting dates are from 8 p.m. August 11, 2016 until 6 a.m. August 14, 2016 and from 8 p.m. August 18, 2016 until 6 a.m. August 21, 2016.