An Awesome Florida Alligator Hunt
By Mary Clary
Newnans Lake, near Gainesville, Florida at Sunrise: What a gorgeous day as the sun, a red-orange ball, rises through the mist coming off the water. The morning, magical in its beauty and serenity, suddenly shattered by the roar of the Chevy engine of our airboat. The hunt was on! Here I was in Florida, Gator Hunting! What?! I must be out of my mind. My guide, and new friend, Bart Carter reassures me that I am perfectly sane. As we get underway we pass a local commercial fisherman in his small boat complete with outboard motor. He and his partner look weather beaten as though they’ve done this for many years in the sun and wind. We wave at each other and proceed out to the lake. There are lily pads everywhere with their beautiful blooms and alien-looking seed pods. There is foliage everywhere! I live in the desert, so all these green things are somewhat foreign to me. The cypress trees with Spanish moss lining the lake are fascinating and kind of eerie, all at once. There is duckweed, some sort of reeds in large clumps and the fragrant purple flowers called Pickerelweed.
As we sped across the lake to a location near the swampy shore to stop and glass for alligators, I catch a strange scent – something like black pepper and sour lemon. I didn’t think much of it until later when I learned that gators have an odor that can be sensed if you’re in the same vicinity. Oddly, not everyone can smell them. As Bart cut the motor and the quiet once again descended over the lake, I noticed the myriad of birds present. There were egrets and herons, osprey, kingfishers and bald eagles. One could just sit and watch the wildlife for hours (if you weren’t on a hunt). Bart and I spent some time glassing the lake for alligators and only he could see any for awhile, until I finally saw one move and then I knew what I was looking for! There is that little burst of excitement one gets when they finally spot their prey – like a mini-adrenaline surge. Folks like Bart, experts at what they do, can estimate the size of a gator, and darn close to perfect too, based solely on the partial head they can see sticking out of the water.
It started getting really hot sitting still on this late August morning, as Bart briefed me and set things up needed for the hunt, so we decided to cruise around a little for a nice breeze while still hunting. It was during this cruise that we spotted our gator – approximately 7 ½ feet. (We were going for a small one this morning to fill one of the many tags that Bart has). We took time to glass the area where the 7 to 8 footer had gone under when a huge head popped up that belonged to a 10 foot plus gator! Bart wanted me to see that there were a lot of gators in this lake. We saw two in the 10 foot range that I was watching when my gator popped back up and presented an opportunity for a cast from where we were drifting. A 40 yard cast, right over his back, Bart says to me, “we got this one”, as he reeled in the slack to the gator. He snags the gator with this one cast of his bait-casting rig with 65lb test line and a #7/0 treble hook. Then he hands the rod to me and says “Don’t let any slack in that line”. What a rush! That animal is so big and so strong even at that size that you can feel enormous power in every movement. For the next 45-60 minutes I spent with a taut line – but not horsing him – I don’t want him to thrash and risk losing him. This was a game of strength and finesse to work him to the boat while wearing him out.
The gator usually runs, taking a spoolful of line (or two) before he begins to tire out. My gator was going under and then staying in place for a time. He was being much more subtle than usual. About 45 minutes in, you really want to rest your arms, but you can’t until that gator is in the boat. While I was keeping the lizard on the line, Bart was readying a crossbow bolt that shoots a Muzzy Gator Getter harpoon bolt into the gator for a secure attachment to start the kill process. While he was getting things ready, Bart pointed to a huge head skimming the surface of the lake just beyond the point. This gator was easily 11 or 12 feet. What an amazing sight while already having a gator on the line. I proceeded to finesse my gator to about 10 feet from the boat, the gator came up and Bart made the shot, a perfectly placed shot with his bolt. The gator ran again, spooling more line that I had to reel back in so, I finessed and finagled until he was right by the boat – maybe two feet from me.
Bart makes these beautiful spears out of cypress and stainless steel that is extremely sharp. He signs, dates, numbers his spears to give to the hunter as a souvenir of the hunt and the kill. Bart hands me this spear, reminds me about placement, then helps to steady me to the side of the boat right beside this gator, so I kept tension on the rope and pushed that tip into the flesh of the gator, as taught, just behind his head. This move is designed to sever the spinal cord or “pith” the brain so you paralyze the gator without killing him, his heart is still beating but he is quite limp. (The reason is, gator meat goes bad quickly and with the heart beating it stays perfect until you are on your way to the processor). This way you can get him on the boat safely, after taping his jaws closed. It’s good to know that both ends of an alligator are dangerous – the jaws have tremendous crushing power and the tail can knock a grown man down. The spear shuts down both dangers, taping the mouth is common sense safety and done always on any hunt of theirs.
Bart proceeded to lift that gator on-board: gripping those jaws closed with one hand and lifting with the other – I was impressed. Once he was secure, the hand slapping, hooting and hollering commenced. After all the tension of the hunt and the fight one has to let off a little steam. The whole experience was magical from the moment we hit the lake, in that everything proceeded exactly like Bart coached me that it would! All of this magic was captured on HD DVD which the boat is equipped with; I still have an edited version of my hunt coming in the mail at some point when these busy people ever get the time to get it to me. As we loaded the boat on its trailer a couple of gentlemen in the park came over to look at our gator and take pictures. Like me, they had never seen one up close and personal. It’s always fun to show off a new trophy.
We traveled back to headquarters and Maria, Bart’s lovely Filipina wife, had lunch hot on the counter: gator tail (bites) in an Asian sauce (her mom’s personal recipe) with rice, Asian BBQ gator ribs, (chewy, but tasty) and fresh fried Southern style frog legs. Wow, a feast fit for a king – absolutely delicious. So good you just keep eating because it makes your mouth happy.
In retrospect, I have watched Swamp People and thought of gator hunting as a night time event, that I didn’t care to participate in. After careful research, I see that a proper gator hunt is even more than a hunt the way it is done down in Florida by these folks, it was so exciting, it has Jim dreaming about gator hunting and my daughter is planning her honeymoon around it. I have to go back to get that huge one I saw for an SCI Gold record.
If you ever get the chance, go gator hunting with Bart at www.Gatorhunts.net, but, only if you want a unique experience where you’re treated like royalty. If you want to wrestle that Lizard in and kill it in the shortest time possible, you might want to rethink it. Bart’s way is so cool that you feel that you have joined as one with nature to earn your trophy, the experience of a lifetime from my perspective. There are a load of 10-foot plus gators down there, just waiting for someone who wants to go for an even bigger gator!
Copyright 2011 by Mary Clary and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.