I’ve done my share of hunting over the years. I started with squirrels, then on to rabbits and the elusive grouse. Eventually I graduated to groundhogs, deer and turkeys. (I put groundhogs in that category because of the longer shots needed on some of those pesky little hole-diggers.)
But I’ve never hunted a dinosaur before.
Now I’ve been hunting for feral hogs many times, and that is an animal you do NOT want to corner. But a hog won’t actively hunt you down so that he can kill and eat you. But a gator has that in him. Ultimately, we are just meat like any other thing that crosses a hungry gator’s path.
So when I was invited along for a gator hunt by my cousin Josh, I was excited. Then apprehensive. Then worried. Then excited. All in the first 30 seconds. But then Josh told me that he’d done it before, and it was no big deal, just a lot of fun. I trusted him…he grew up in Kentucky..and with RidgeRunner as an uncle, he HAD to be prepared.
So on the day before season started, I drove the two hours to my cousins place along the Space Coast. Since we planned on hitting the water several hours before daylight, I thought it best to rest nearby before the big day.
So after a long day at work, I drove up, sat around catching up, including Josh showing off the head mount of his gator from last year, roughly 8feet long. I then hit pillows at about midnight. 3am came way too soon…and with it, the alarm that woke me out of a restless sleep filled with large man-eating lizards.
I was ready to pay them back.
We loaded up, and met the third part of the party, the boat owner and driver. Greg was the all around Florida waterman, it seemed. Even his daily job, working on pools, keeps him around water. In his off hours, he would fish, dive, catch crabs, scallop, and one of the things on my bucket list, go shrimping. I was enthralled with his tales of buckets of shrimp, free for the taking…my mouth waters as I write this thinking of the scene from Forrest Gump…but I’m slipping off topic.
The boat was a lovely 17 foot flats boat with LOTS of deck space and a small center console. Perfect for poling around the flats and loading up on tarpon, bonefish, redfish, snook…and apparently buckets of shrimp. But it was a bit cramped with three of us. No worries, these guys were pros at this thing, right?
We trailered the boat to Lake Helen Blazes (not making this up!) and dropped in by 4am. We hadn’t even gotten into the boat, when we spotted alligator eyes shining in the handheld spotlight.
Most of the morning was a blur from that point on…Spot a gator, ease towards him with the trolling motor, then as the gator would drop out of sight before we got into casting range, wait a bit, then get frustrated, swear a bit, and then move on. Rinse, repeat… There always seemed to be another gator a hundred yards away…so we’d just go after THAT one…and spook him.
Sometimes we’d get close enough for Greg to cast, but much to my annoyance, and his embarrassment, Mr Waterman was having an off day with his casting. Jitters, hangover, or just bad luck, whatever the cause, he couldn’t make a good cast to save his butt. So we tried and tried again.
Eventually, he made a decent cast, seen here, with the results:
This gator made a mad dash straight towards what looked to be land. After running a good 30 yards under the “land”, the gator broke the line and we realized that the “land” was just a floating mat of vegetation. I gained another lesson about Florida waterways.
Since Josh was the kill man, and I was an unlicensed observer, Greg was on his own trying to hook a gator. AS tired as he was, he kept trying. However, since the hunting window is 5pm until 10am, as 10am drew closer, so did the end of our hunt.
With 15 minutes left, we spotted yet another gator, one we’d seen several times before. He seemed a big more bold than the other we’d seen, probably because he was a little bit larger. So when he surfaced about 40 yards away, Greg tried yet again…and scored, getting the hook in the neck area!
Now I’m new to this whole thing. My idea of gator hunting is a johnboat, some hooks and chicken for bait, a .22 rifle, and a Cajun accent. Most of us have seen Swamp People to know what I’m talking about.
But in Florida, as I understand it, you cannot use a rifle or pistol to dispatch a gator. From MYFWC.com:
“Alligators may be taken only by the use of artificial lures or baited, wooden pegs less than two (2) inches in length attached to hand-held restraining lines or restraining lines attached to a vessel occupied by the permittee and hand-held snares, harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, and manually operated spears, spearguns, crossbows and bows with projectiles attached to restraining lines. The use of baited hooks, gig-equipped bangsticks, or firearms for taking alligators is prohibited except that bang sticks are permitted for taking alligators attached to a restraining line.”
So firearms are out, other than bangsticks, and then only when the animal is already restrained. What kind of crazy fool made THAT rule up? These things can EAT you! If I had MY way, I’d sit back 100yards away and shoot it in the head with my .270. Then go dredge the body up. Safe, efficient, and did I mention SAFE?
So now we have a gator on the line. From what we can tell its about the size of the one they harvested last year. But since all we saw was the head from a distance, its hard to say. Greg was pretty sure it was a little bigger, since this one seems to be fighting a lot harder.
Once snagged, a gators instinct is to submerge and try to pull away. And stay submerged. This gator was no different, staying down for almost 25 minutes before coming up for air. As we watched Greg sweat, swear, and fight, we offered both insults on his manly prowess and support for his herculean efforts. The gator was easily pulling the boat all over the lake, and only with judicious application of the trolling motor to counter the gators efforts was Greg able to keep the animal in open water. It truly was a masterful execution of fighting something wit ha pole and a boat. The Old Man and the Sea had nothing on this Young Man and the Lake.
When the gator started to rise, he did so only enough to allow his nostrils to clear the water, get a fresh lungful of air, the right back down he went, without so much as a glimpse of how big it was. The animal was either smart, or his instincts prevented him from allowing Josh to get a clean shot in with his compound bow.
So Greg was forced to fight the brute for another twenty minutes.
By this time, you could see the long day’s casting and then the forty or so minutes of fighting the beast was starting to show in Greg’s smiling face. Tired or not, he has grit, and stuck with it.
Eventually the gator started to rise again. Josh, ready with his bow, a razor sharp broad head on his arrow ready, stood in front of me as I stood by armed with only my camera. AS the head broke the surface, and we saw his size for the first time, we realized just how big he was….
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