Let me just start out by saying we did not deserve this gator. Although our guide was awesome, well equipped and capable…The Support staff made the 3 Stooges look like pure geniuses.
The adventure started 5 years ago on a family vacation in Daytona Beach. Me and my brother-in-law, Jeff, were sitting on the beach and I was reading a GON article on alligator hunting. He had the bright idea that we should try that. The deadline for the quota entry was about 2 weeks away so we had time to get our applications submitted. Hoping he might forget, I didn't do it right away. But a phone call asking about it got the ball rolling again. We knew it was going to take a couple of years to get selected so surely in that time frame we could figure out what to do because…..we had no clue.
After the 3rd time submitting our applications, we came in contact with a dude named Del at a family Christmas party. He Is the husband of long time childhood friend of my wife. He said that gator hunting was his thing and that he would take care of us. Things are starting to look up. He told us which zone was the easiest to get drawn and other helpful advice. Which I proceeded to mess up. When I submitted our 4th application I still had us as a groups rather than individuals which did not help our chances. One smart thing I did do at the time was submit one for Sawyer so he could start collecting points. Anyway we were rejected a 4th time and wondered if we were going to ever get to go.
Now skip to July of 2017. We are sitting with 4 priority points each and decide to separate the applications and for Jeff to go first. I turn mine and Sawyer's in for additional points only. Bam! He gets selected. Now it's on. We get in contact with Del and the trip planning goes into high gear because just like with deer or turkey, opening day is one of the best days and it is approaching fast. Once they are pressured they get very difficult to track down.
I ordered 6 large weighted treble hooks off of Amazon and we book a room.
Friday evening arrives and we all meet up at the ramp to a lake off of the Savannah River. Well you could call it a lake, and you could call it a ramp. I thought I kept hearing Charlie Daniels song "The Legend of Wooley Swamp" in my head. Wild hogs, large spiders, Cyprus trees, Spanish moss, green water and tons of gators swimming around made for an interesting atmosphere. Legal sunset was 8:08 pm so we boarded our vessel, a 16 fiberglass boat with electric motors only. Equipped with 3 salt water rods with 200lb line, a large treble hook on a rope, a video camera and a pistol, we eased out in to no man's land. You always hear the expression "off the grid." Well we not only got off…we got a running started and jumped.
There were lots of gators swimming around. And lots of bugs flying around. The temp was a cozy 96 degrees and the humidity was about 110%. Thinking this was going to be easy, we were soon schooled in the art of gator stalking. Our jobs were to spot the gators. Once it gets dark you do this by shining your light across the water looking for the red eyes. The trick though is to Not shine it directly on them. This will only spook them and cause them to go under. You shine upwards towards the shore and catch the glow on the lake. No luck while it was still light. Just as the sun went down the wind picked up and we could hear it coming. Rain! A quick summer time storm blew across and got us nice and moist. Now it spooky , hot and wet. The next 4 hours were spent circling this reptilian invested lake casting and casting hoping to snag what lay behind the dozens of red eyes we were seeing. It was nothing to shine the light out of the back of the boat and see 7-8 sets looking back at you. We saw lots of gators in the 4' – 8' range and soon discovered why it is called hunting and not catching. We did eventually hang 3 different ones only to have them shake off. I wonderfully proceeded to lose 2 of my new hooks on the nastiness of the bottom of the lake and/or the overhanging trees. Around 1:00 am the trolling motor batteries were dying and we were spent. It was decided to call it a night and head for the hotel and civilization.
After a hot shower and 4 hours of sleep, we met 6 am-ish for the continental breakfast then headed to Walmart for a new battery. Our next stop was a different lake which was a little more adventurous to get to and equally as spooky. We launched and enjoyed a little shade while looking for a prospect. Only 2 small gators were seen. Both were under the 4' minimum. A group discussion was held on whether or not to go back to the lake we were on the night before or try a new one. The notion that we knew gators were in the previous one and the thought that casting would be easier in the daytime, we chose to return. Sure enough they were there. But they may have even been more difficult to approach. Every time you left a cove, you could look back in you wake and see 2 – 3 looking at you as if they were laughing. Getting frustrated we loaded up the boat and snapped the strap that cranks the boat onto the trailer. A good knot tied and we were back in business. Now we fell on the wisdom of our guide. He knew of another lake but wasn't sure about the road. Being bold we went for it. Sure enough it was horrible. Ditches, ruts you name it. Why we didn't get stuck I'll never know. It was either skilled driving or a lot of luck. I'll go with the latter. Everything in the truck was now in the floor boards. It finally got so bad that we decided to turn around. How Del got the truck and boat trailed turned around on that pig trail I'll never know. By now I was probably ready to head west back to Senoia . Once back on high, dry ground, our guide dude had one more trick up his sleeve. There was a ramp into and oxbow lake that lead straight out to the Savannah River. It was more accessible to the public but had potential. When we got there, sure enough there were a few trucks and trailers but it looked to be more like fishermen. We glassed they canal and the narrow lake to behold Gatorzilla. He was the only one in there and probably for a good reason. He was the biggest one we had seen. We figured we had come this far and stayed this long that we might as well give it a try. When we launched the boat for the 3rd time that day, we managed to break the pin on the trolling motor. Fortunately Del was able to rig it up with a ratchet strap to keep it in place. Wasn't long before we realized that just like with big deer and turkey….they don't get that big by being stupid. The big dude would tease us just long enough and seemed to know where casting range was. He would go under and disappear. On some of the fan casting, I managed to lose some more hooks. Now we are down to 3. One on each of the rods. We spend the next 2 hours drifting in the shade waiting on him to resurface. Which he would do about every 30 – 45 minutes. Suckers can really hold their breath. Two efforts were made to no avail. Time was winding down and we all had long, long rides back home. We decided if he were to surface again that would be the last hoorah. We camped out along the shore near where he went down last. It seemed a lot longer this time and Jeff & Sawyer entertained themselves by videoing me snoring in the back of the boat. All at once it seemed like we looked at our watches and though man we have to go. And then looking up at the same time and saying "There he is!". Del kicked the trolling motor in high gear and we readied out rods. Sure enough the rascal went under but well within casting range. I went wide right but Del landed his right in front of the bubble trail. Next thing we knew drag was singing from the reel and we were being towed out to sea! There he is!. The next 30-45 minutes were kind of a blur. Sawyer took over and relayed directions from Del to me and Jeff. All the time trying to film. The gator just kind of took us where ever he wanted to go. We stayed on the motor and dude hung on for the ride. At one point we tried to get another rod and hook on him. Jeff made a cast and it went long into a tree top. I followed up with a cast that managed to snag something o the bottom. Now we are in a pickle. We need at least one of those hooks to try and get another one in him to help wear him down cause at this point he is having his way with us. My line wasn't budging and soon snapped. Jeff got the big hook and rope and tried to locate/hook the gator while I worked on getting his out of the tree. The gator would have none of the delay and started towing us back out into the channel. On that lunge, the gator broke the rod Del was holding. The screw that attaches the reel to the rod snapped. I had no choice but to cut the line on the other reel. Now we are down to our last hook. Just when we tough things couldn't get any more interesting, Mr. gator decided he is going to go tour a sunken tree top. And we could do nothing about it. He proceeded to wrap the line on every branch. So what do I do as a good parent? Yep…..we held Sawyer by the feet over the side of the boat and into the tree top to try and pull the thing into the boat. It was coated with the nastiest river jelly/slime I have ever seen. Once dude got a hold of the main branch we drug him and the tree back into the boat. As the tree top lifted, the line came off of each branch. Del did his best to hang on and steer the boat. Finally Jeff shook off the last limb and the line went straight again. Gator was back out in the middle. I looked back over my shoulder and we had drawn quite an audience at the boat ramp. Some even had chairs.
So now we are skiing behind the gator. Del had Sawyer get on the trolling motor a while so he could move about the boat with the gator. Our hearts really raced as he surfaced and we got a good view to his size. When he went back under somehow I wound up with the rope. Del told me which direction I had to throw and in my best Deadliest Catch impression I let it fly. About 2'-3' on retrieval, I felt some resistance so in my Spartan mind I yanked on it. Bad idea……It yanked back. Almost pulled me out of the boat. I managed to get my hand out from around the rope and get my foot on the gunnel. Now I could apply some pressure. Believe me when I say and 400-450 muscle filled beast is not easy to tug-o-war with. It was really On now. I was able to really start getting some pressure on him and he surfaced beside the boat. It looked just like something out of Swamp people. It was now time for Jeff to end it. A big tug and the rolling gator came up alongside of the boat and was greeted with a hollow point. Just then the line on Del's rig snapped. He told me to keep pressure and for Jeff to get another shot. But as our luck was continuing…the gun Jammed! It had never jammed before. Jeff struggled with it briefly but got the shell out and quickly dispatched a second shot. It was done. After few seconds we brought the beast alongside and taped his mouth shut. Never assume a dead gator is really dead. Then we had to drag the behemoth into the already crowded boat. Once he was rolled in we just all fell out and sighed. After brief applause, the crowd at the ramp broke up and we headed that way. Not paying attention to the weight in the back we soon noticed we were taking on water. The ramp, not being the best constructed, was steep and soon we sunk the back of the boat while trying to tag him. With a come-a-long and some more ratchet straps, we drug the boat up onto the ramp and get it to drain. All of our gear was floating. Finally getting to the plug, relief was in sight. But as we went to push it back out to load, our good fortune did not end. Somehow we managed to snap the trolling motor completely off the deck. We had to be entertaining to the folks in the area.
The next task was cleaning this rascal. We headed to the check station and pictures/video were abundant. Sawyer and Jeff under Del's now worn out guidance, commenced to skinning the gator While I headed to the nearest town for coolers, storage bags, ice and food. While cleaning him, they discovered a 22 caliber bullet in him. Someone had just made him mad.
2.5 hours later and 4 coolers full of meat, we were finally ready for home. I think Sawyer and I arrived back in good ole Senoia around 2:30 am Saturday night/Sunday morning.
A true, true phenomenal trip. One that will not be soon forgotten. An adrenaline rush like no other . 9th inning, 2 out and 2 strikes. Stayed with it till the bitter end. We were truly about to leave. Just like with any other hunting….Never give up. We did not deserve this gator, but somehow we came out on top. A comedy or errors but we still prevailed. The alligators measurement was 10.5' and estimated 400 - 450 lbs.
We want to give our most sincere Thanks to Mr. Del Baxter for assisting us on our adventure. Looking forward to next year already. I have 5 points and Sawyer has 3. We should be good to go the next 2 seasons.
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