When I travel outside Louisiana, I often am asked the same few questions after introducing myself as a New Orleanian.
They are usually about the South, Cajuns, Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina. But, the primary fascination is always alligators.
And, I am not the only Louisianan who has noticed this trend. My sister was in Iowa last week and alligators were a popular topic. My cousins who recently visited from Texas had to try gator. With all the gator talk of late (both negative and positive), I thought a blog post would be the perfect place to answer some questions and explain how these creatures are just a part of everyday life.
Do you really eat alligators?
Yes, in fact they taste like chicken. Honestly. They are, however, a tad gamier than fowl. I personally love blackened alligator, or fried. Most people who cook it often have their own recipes for a horseradish sauce to complement the meat. Some chefs get creative with gator dishes, I have enjoyed both alligator sushi and gator gumbo.
Have you seen a live alligator?
Yes, many times. They are in lakes and rivers throughout the state. I have been in a boat just a few feet away from an alligator or two. And as the old adage goes, “If you don’t bother them. They won’t bother you.” I would still recommend proceeding with caution and not swimming near them; the alligator you encounter could be confused or aggressive. If you want to rendezvous with gators on purpose, there are guided swamp tours and hatcheries. On some swamp tours, you even get to throw the reptiles marshmallow treats.
Do you hunt alligators?
With recent media attention on alligator hunting, I think a lot of Americans believe it to be a common sport. But, it is not that prevalent throughout the state. Don’t get me wrong; some people’s livelihoods depend on it. Gator isn’t as commonly hunted in Louisiana as other game, like deer or duck.
Jake Clapp, a team member on my oral history project, Louisianan and alligator hunter, explained that the sport isn’t as lucrative or dramatic as one would assume. He noted that a hunter must have a license and appropriate tags from the state to chase gator.
Jake said a non-commercial hunter only catches about two to three gators in the short 30-day, September season and you can only sell a gator if it is over six feet long. Even if the alligator is not sold, it legally cannot go to waste. When hunters receive the tags, they promise that the gators they catch will be harvested.
“It’s the Louisiana buffalo. People use every part of it,” Jake said about how his father, Reed Clapp, cooks the meat and salts the hide to preserve it. Hunters turn alligator leather into boots, hats, belts, you name it.
He described the arduous, multi-day process of setting traps, hanging bait and slowly reeling in the gator to avoid thrashing and an angry catch. Once the gator is close enough to the boat, it is shot and left in the water for a few minutes. Jake said the calmer and slower this process, the safer the hunt. Antics that would lead to chaos and drama are avoided. The dead gator is then put in the boat and swaddled in a wet blanket to keep it from baking in the sun on the boat ride home.
For the Clapp family, and several others in Louisiana, alligator hunting is just part of autumn.
I hope this answers all of your gator questions. If you have any more, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.