JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Great weather, high water and increasing expertise made for a good alligator season in Mississippi's public waters, says state alligator program coordinator Ricky Flynt.
Hunters took 918 alligators from Mississippi's public waters this year, up 153 from last year's harvest, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said. Paul Edwards of Okolona and five others tied a state record by catching a 10-foot-long (3-meter-long) female.
"Water levels and weather are the single largest benefits to hunter effort and success," Flynt wrote in an email Monday. Higher water makes most river systems easier to navigate, he said, "and the weather was absolutely perfect for the entire 10-day season."
He said he also thinks experience gained since the state's first season in 2005 has made hunters better at finding and catching alligators.
The state record is 982 harvested in 2015, when 997 permit holders and their guests went out on the water and 693 groups brought home at least one alligator. About three-quarters of this year's 816 groups harvested a gator or two.
The time needed to find and harvest an alligator averaged nearly 10½ hours in 2015 but less than 8 hours this year, according to data provided by Flynt.
The number of alligators harvested is far less than the number caught. Hunters caught and released 2,147 alligators in 2015, 1,671 last year and 2,018 this year.
Permit holders have a season limit of two alligators. To ensure a good mix of younger animals and big old gators, both must be at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) long, and only one may be more than 7 feet (2 meters) long.
"Hunters target larger alligators as a 'trophy' and also target alligators that are slightly under 7 feet long due to the bag limit parameters. Most hunters capture multiple alligators each year but will release many until they capture one or two that meet their harvest expectations," Flynt wrote.
Bait and artificial lures are illegal in Mississippi. Hunters can snag alligators with weighted triple hooks, use a snare pole to get a loop of rope around an animal's neck, or shoot them with either a harpoon that has a detachable point or an arrow equipped with a fish point.
This year, 3,065 hunters participated, including 816 permit holders. The department said 617 permit holders and their friends caught at least one alligator this year.
The 10-day public harvest ended Sept. 9. The private lands season, which has some different rules and requires state harvest vouchers, continues until 6 a.m. Sept. 23. Far fewer alligators are generally taken on private lands - the four-year total from 2014 through 2017 was 411.