Florida’s public alligator hunt opened on Friday, and this year hunters will have access to the 150,000-acre Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for the first time. According to Reuters, more than a thousand sportsmen and women applied for the privilege of hunting inside the refuge, but only 11 hunters will be allowed inside. The decision to allow harvests from Everglades refuge came after nearly a decade of debate, and a crowd of animal rights advocates are expected to hold demonstrations outside refuge grounds.

Hunting inside national parks and refuges has remained a polarizing issue between hunters and animal advocacy groups. Sportsmen say public lands should be openly accessible by hunters, and that the absence of hunting has created overpopulation in some parks. That does seem to be the case in some areas, where populations of deer and other game animals have grown rampant. Earlier this month the National Park Service announced its $1.8 million plan to cull deer in three Civil War battleground memorial parks in Maryland and Virginia. Since hunting is not allowed on the battlegrounds, the deer populations in the Antietam, Monocacy, and Manassas battlefields have grown several times past what officials consider a sustainable deer density. Animal rights groups however, argue that refuges are supposed to provide a safe haven for wildlife.

Each of the 11 hunters can harvest up to two alligators. In Florida, the most common method of taking an alligator is by using a bow, fishing line, and bangstick combination. Bangsticks, or powerheads, resemble a spear with the piercing blade swapped out for live ammunition in the head of the weapon. When prodded against something, the cartridge fires and usually kills the animal by the force of the muzzle blast alone. Hunters say this method is often safer and more humane than using a regular firearm to harvest alligators.

“To me, it’s a combination between fishing and hunting,” Tony Young, the head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), told the Fort Myers News-Press.

The FWC released nearly 6,000 permits for this year’s hunt, which is growing steadily more popular with sportsmen over the last several years. In 2013, 7,955 alligators were harvested—nearly one animal per hunter. The state has held alligator seasons since 1988 to manage the population in Florida, which currently hovers around 1.5 million individuals. Professional alligator hunters can work year-round to deal with any stray critters that venture too close to human habitat.

Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

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