Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bucket List Dream Hunt - Alligator!

With opening day of archery deer season hitting this last weekend, you would think I might have a column on a bow hunt.  For a reason I cannot ignore, I had to forgo this weekend’s opening.  For the last three years I have attempted to pull a tag for an alligator in Georgia.  This weekend allowed me to put a check beside an item on my hunting bucket list.

Georgia Alligator tag for 2011.
I was notified in August that I was successful in drawing a gator tag for zone 4, which encompasses the counties around Valdosta, Georgia.  With less than a month before the hunt was to start, I had to find a place to hunt, decide what I was going to do with the gator if I was successful and find a the appropriate vendors to take care of it depending on my decision.  I had to do hours upon hours of ‘online’ scouting.  Looking trough different maps, contacting potential land owners, monitoring weather circumstances, and arranging my work schedule were critical in making this a successful hunt.
Lake Lewis. This would be my hunting 'land' for the next 48 hours.
Southern Georgia is in the middle of a drought, where many of their rivers are nothing more than small streams, often not even flowing because the water is so low.  I joined a hunting forum based in Georgia, and from information gathered there, decided a lake or pond would offer me the best opportunity.  I met one gentleman, Dane Lancaster, on the forum who received his first gator tag this year for zone 4 also.  We talked on the phone and agreed to tackle the hunt together rather than finding a guide.  He has a small camper he allowed me to stay in, which knocked off the cost of a hotel room.  He also would provide a boat for us to use and would work on permissions for us to hunt several areas.  I was to supply the equipment for the hunt, namely a Muzzy Gator Getter setup for the bow, as well as some lights.  We decided not to use a generator for fear of scaring the gators, and went with a couple of LED Lenser H7 head lamps instead.  Both of these ideas played to our favor in getting up close to the alligators.
Now my wife, she had nightmares about this trip.  All she could envision was some swamp people with no teeth.  Their tools of the trade would consist of a chain saw and a banjo, and likely be using me for gator bait.  When I met Dane and his wife Sheri in person, I asked them to smile big for me.  Seeing they each had their teeth, I told them my wife's concerns and we all got a good laugh out of it.
Gator trying to get in the boat.

The hunt had its challenges.  After the first evening, we saw several dozen alligators, their reflective red eyes resembling a demon resting on the water’s surface.  We practiced calling, using a sound that imitates a young gator in distress.  Without fail, when we made the call, eyes would surface to see what was making the commotion.  Once we had a small alligator make a swim to the boat.  Dane commented if we had steps, the gator would have come right into the boat.  It is an eerie feeling in the swamps with the different noises, the glowing eyes, and the soft lifting fog in the middle of the darkness.  When we were pulling out that morning we heard a pop and watched the boat’s front end lower.  Upon investigation, the trailer broke near the tongue.  We set the boat and trailer to the side and decided to catch a few hours sleep, and then we would return with a generator and welder to secure the trailer in order to get it back to the house.
The killing shot.
After we made the repairs, we borrowed a boat from one of Dane’s relatives.  Things seemed to be working against us, but we were going to give it a good try with a positive attitude regardless.  Even if we did not harvest an ‘ole swamp lizard, we were enjoying the hunt and the pursuit.


Dane Lancaster (Nashville, Ga) and Bill Howard

Around 1am, we spotted a gator resting in some swamp grass.  With the lights, we were able to make out most of its head.  The rule to determine how big a gator is is to measure from the snout to the eyes.  Whatever the measurement is in inches, the total length will be that in feet.  Based on this information, we estimated the gator to be about 6 feet long, easily the largest we had come across.  I decided to take the shot, and we drifted in an arc behind the gator.  When the body lined up, I shot the arrow through the back.  After some thrashing and splashing, we pulled the gator to the side of the boat.  Usually in these instances, a pistol or ‘bang stick’ will be used to dispatch the gator before pulling him in the boat.  I wanted it to be strictly a bow kill, so I used a hunting broadhead to the base of the spine.  If anyone ever thinks a bow and arrow will not kill an alligator, I have testament to the contrary.
With the right photography, even this 6 foot'r looks like a monster!
In the end, I had experienced something I have only dreamed of.  I met new people and made new friends, all in the fellowship of hunting and the outdoors.  I had my trophy, regardless of size, taken the way I wanted to hunt it and by knowledge I had learned rather than watched.  If that is not considered a successful hunt, there is no such thing.


Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site GiveEmTheShaft.com. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

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