DESOTO COUNTY, MS (abc24.com) - It's hunting season in Mississippi. The prize game is not what you might think.
Almost 2,000 hunters are combing the state's swamps and river banks for alligators this week, all for sport.
Hunting season started last Friday, and alligators are being found as far north as DeSoto and Tunica counties. There are not nearly as many up north as down south.
185 alligators have been captured and killed so far, five from northern Mississippi.
"We sure sell a bunch of hunting stuff, that's all we're selling right now," says Ray Duncan at the DeSoto County Co-Op in Olive Branch. Local hunters are buying tons of equipment, but none to hunt alligators. "Deer and dove and turkeys - a lot of dadgum turkeys - but no alligators."
It's a surprise to many in northern Mississippi.
"I've never seen one in DeSoto County and I've been here all my life," says Jim Loftin. "I thought they were mostly in south Mississippi."
Alligators are all over. The hunting season is described as booming this year.
"We've never had this many permits available, this much territory open," says Ricky Flynt, coordinator of Mississippi's alligator hunting program.
Mississippians started hunting the animals for sport in 2005; 50 people participated. 1700 are out this season.
"Right now we have 177 hunters who have turned in harvest reports," says Flynt. He adds hunters usually search in teams of four, and it's nothing like what you see on TV.
"Our hunters are required to capture them first. They have to legally be restrained by rope or in a snare so it's controlled before being killed with a firearm."
The state's divided into six zones, hunters are assigned an area.
As far of the five alligators found in the northern zone that includes DeSoto and Tunica, "they are locally common," Flynt says. "I would not say they are widespread common, but there are local areas."
To give you some context, Florida is said to have one to two million alligators. Mississippi is estimated to have about 50,000.
It's illegal for the public to capture or kill an alligator; all hunters had to register for a permit ahead of time. The season ends September 17th.