Beat the Learning Curve This Alligator Season

Learn from the trials and tribulations of a gator hunter.

Drew Hall | August 15, 2009

After three years waiting for a tag in the zone where he’s lived his whole life, the author was surprised to discover killing a good gator is harder than it appears. He got this 8-foot, 8-incher after a season spent learning from his own mistakes.

The alligator has roamed this planet for millions of years. It has gone from predator to prey and survived near eradication from the continent in the 1950s. These beasts have been around since the time of the dinosaurs; they are the true Jurassic Park of our time. After three years of waiting for a tag and an entire season spent trying to fill it, I now know why these monsters have been around so long.

Three years ago, when I applied for the first time for an alligator tag, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty. Living along the shores of Lake Seminole and the Flint River in Bainbridge my entire life, I knew alligator hunting would be a quick, easy thrill. Boy, was I wrong. It took three years to finally get a tag in Zone 2 (Lake Seminole), before I lucked out. My brother and I both received tags for the same zone.

Anyone who has spent any time on Seminole or any of its waterways can tell you, there is no shortage of alligators. In fact, there isn’t even a shortage of alligators longer than 8 feet. So, now that we finally had tags, we were going to fill ’em quick… or so we thought.

We decided that even though there was an abundance of alligators, we should probably still go with a guide for our first try. We recruited Mike Sloan of Wingate’s Lunker Lodge. After seeing a massive gator he put the guys from Archery Addicts on in 2007, I knew we were in for a treat.

So, at midnight on opening morning we headed out onto the lake in search of our quarry. It didn’t take long before those little orange and red eyes were glowing all around us. But, Mike said the little ones stay in the grass, and the larger ones, the ones we were after, were close to the river channel. He was right, and that’s where we went.

It didn’t take long before we were on a good one. Mike’s method of chase is to spotlight them at a distance and then cut off the outboard to make chase with the transom-mounted trolling motor. A bow-mounted motor seems to force them under a lot sooner than one on the other end of the boat. Well, after chasing the lizard for about 30 minutes and running into umpteen other boats, we gave up and went to find another. Which leads to my first bit of advice: Don’t go on opening night on Seminole unless you want to fight other boats.

While smaller gators can be found in the grass, the bigger ones stick to the open river channels.

We chased several other large gators and almost got shot opportunities on a few, but we just couldn’t get close enough without getting cut off by another boat or the gator finding its way into something the motor couldn’t.

So, we called it quits and said we’d be back the next weekend. Meanwhile, the next night my brother Daryl and I and a couple of friends went to the Flint River in search of more gators. What we found was, inexperience makes for a let down. We chased several gators and got almost close enough for shots but just couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. We were using the spotlight from a distance and then smaller lights up close, but we just couldn’t get close enough. Then we realized the more lights on in the boat, the worse off you are. The only lights you need on (besides those required by law) are the one on the shooter’s head, and one attached to the bow. This cuts down on visibility to Mr. Gator, and allows you to get a lot closer.

Then there are other factors involved in gator hunting, those you have no control over. When we finally figured out how to get close enough to a gator, we ran into those factors. On the first large gator we closed in on, I was drawing my bow when we hit a stump, and a partner and I almost went in the water with said gator. As relieved as I was, I was upset because the alligator never resurfaced for another shot.

To our luck we got on another large gator just after that. It was in the middle of the river channel. We followed it around for about 30 minutes in the channel before the shot opportunity arose. Unfortunately, at that same time, a glass bottle floating down the river also arose and floated right into our boat, creating more noise than a three-piece percussion band. That gator also disappeared. Soon after that, at about 4 a.m., our second spotlight burned out, and we were almost out of our three boat batteries. We called it quits and vowed to be back the next weekend.

We started the next weekend on the lake with Mike again in hopes of seeing a big one with less competition. The wind was blowing heavily, and there was almost a full moon, which doesn’t help conceal the boat at all. The wind blows waves into the boat making all kinds of racket the alligators don’t like, and it also makes it hard to see their eyes in choppy water. We pressed on, and around midnight we saw a behemoth alligator in the channel.

We chased it until I had a shot opportunity, which was blown by no fault of our guide. He’d put us on multiple shooters over the course of two weekends, and we’d passed small ones hoping for a big one, only to blow the shot on a big one. Around midnight we called it quits, and Mike retired to bed while my compadre Josh and I vowed to not sleep until we’d given it our all.

We went back to Bainbridge and took my boat to some of the lower areas on the Flint. We made short work of finding a shooter and closing in on it. I was on the trolling motor, and Josh was the archer. We almost ran over the gator before Josh took the shot, a perfectly aimed shot that went no more than 5 feet before the line backlashed, and the arrow tumbled into the water. Which leads me to my next piece of advice on gator hunting: Know your equipment, and expect the unexpected.

The very same thing happened again about 20 minutes later, and we became very frustrated. We later found out I hadn’t spooled the line correctly. So, before you waste time chasing alligators with equipment you’ve incorrectly readied, read the instructions.

Later that evening we actually arrowed a gator more than 10 feet long with our Muzzy Gator Getter kit. It was attached with 600-lb. gator cord. That’s 600 pounds of pressure required to snap the line, and the only way that kind of pressure can be on the line is if you are pulling back on it, right?

Well, not exactly. The alligator is going to try to wrap the line on everything in its vicinity. Do all you can to keep the float attached to the line in the boat. And, if it does get out, crank your outboard and cut the gator off before it gets out of the channel. As soon as it stops, start pulling the line and trying to get him up. If you made a good shot, you don’t have to worry about that tip coming out. If you made a glancing shot, you might want to wait for him to resurface, but chances are you aren’t going to get close enough for a second shot without actually pulling him to you. It was our experience that after they’ve been shot at one time, they don’t hang around. They’ll usually pop up right after that, but then they’re gone for good. Having another arrow ready to shoot as quickly as possible is a very good idea.

Mark Land, of Muzzy, offered some great advice. He said everyone in the boat should have an assigned task. After the first shot, the shooter’s sole task is to get another arrow ready for a quick second shot, even if he hit home the first time. Then there is a line guy. His sole responsibility is to hold the line and try his darndest to keep that float in the boat. Then there’s the driver, I guess that’s pretty self explanatory.

So, two weekends later we found ourselves in the same boat on the same stretch of river. We found another alligator more than 10 feet long and fairly quickly closed in for a short and easy shot. But, then again, nothing at all to do with alligator hunting is as easy as it seems, and I shot over the alligator, which submerged and never returned.

That made the tally two blown shots on good gators by yours truly.

Gators longer than 8 feet are not hard to come by on Lake Seminole or the Flint River. As the author discovered, getting close enough to arrow them is the hard part.

Back to square one, and we started combing the river for a gator in the channel or one we could push into the channel. The smaller ones rarely leave the bank, but the larger ones almost always go straight to the channel.

It wasn’t long before we were on another shooter, and I decided at this point I wasn’t going to be picky about size. My driver eased up to the gator. This time I made a perfect 10-yard shot into the gator’s back, burying the Muzzy broadhead 3 inches beneath its hide. I would’ve never believed anything could penetrate the armor-like plates of an alligator, but after spending 10 minutes cutting the broadhead out, I won’t soon forget the penetration.

We watched the buoy sail off the bow and into the water where it soon rose to the top only 20 feet from us toward the bank. We cut the gator off by cranking the outboard and getting in between it and the bank. The beast soon settled, and we all put on leather gloves and got ready for the fight.

My brother grabbed the buoy, and I had to grab my brother to keep him from being pulled out of the boat. We alternated the lead-puller position until we got the gator to the boat. When he finally got close to the surface, we realized the alligator had successfully tangled itself in the gator cord using its infamous death roll, and it wasn’t able to fight much anymore… or so we thought.

It was apparent upon our first view that this wasn’t the little guy I thought I had arrowed. After we got it next to the boat, it decided it wanted to come into the boat with us to show off its pretty teeth. But, we held our composure and stuck the gator with a Ratworks harpoon with rope attached.

Randy Pound, a member of the party that harvested the state record on Lake Blackshear in 2008, lent us the harpoon. Now that we had two lines in the beast, it was dispatch time. The gator decided it was come-in-the-boat-again time, and did the whole mouth-open biting the side of the boat routine about the time several rounds from a .45 struck him in the head. But, even after 10 minutes, he still wasn’t dead. A final round from a .357 severed the spinal column behind his skull.

We took the gator to Glass Enterprises Alligator Farm, in Camilla, where we were given $30 per foot for our 8-foot, 8-inch beast, which was probably only about $800 less than all the money we’d spent to take him.

Long story short, we never filled our other tag. We spent almost the entire season of weekends chasing these prehistoric submarines around, and managed to learn a whole lot about alligator hunting that might save you a lot of time and heartache if you’ve never done it. And one last bit of advice: Before your first alligator excursion, seek advice from an expert about what you’re getting yourself into.

But, 98 percent of those reading this are probably a better shot than I am, so you’ll probably fill your tag on opening morning.

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