Bill would allow hunters to shoot gators

David Umphlett knows a thing or two about people killing alligators. But what worries the state representative from Berkeley County is gators killing people.

Umphlett, R-Moncks Corner, wants to allow hunters to shoot free-swimming gators on private property. Last week, he persuaded a House committee to tack that change onto an alligator hunting bill (S.452) that passed the Senate last year.

The original bill allowed hunters to shoot gators only after they got the creatures under control with ropes or lines. That restriction, aimed at preventing wounded gators from swimming away and dying elsewhere, still would be in effect on public property.

Umphlett argued that capturing a gator first is difficult and dangerous. He has worked with gator wranglers for years to reduce the population on his Berkeley County land, but they can't slow down the prolific reptiles.

"I stood at a boat landing on my property last spring and counted 75 gators within a 70-yard radius," Umphlett said. "We need to do something about it.

"I've seen hunting dogs swimming across the Cooper River, and there's one big splash and the dog is gone. My fear is, I've seen people skiing out there in the same place."

Actually, gator attacks on humans in South Carolina are rare. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has logged fewer than a dozen reports of human injuries from attacks in the past 30 years.

The bill passed last year by the Senate gained new urgency in September when a Summerville man was attacked by a gator while swimming in Lake Moultrie.