Alligators were a protected species in Florida until 1978. In 1988, they began to sell permits to allow hunting of alligators to help control the population. That year, Doug was one of five people to buy permits and go hunting. Back then, you had to bring the gator to the processor still alive! Now, there is a lottery system for permits, and you can kill the gator before you take it in.
Patrick was lucky enough to get a license this year. I picked up my Alligator Trapper Agent permit (aka a “helper“ permit) so I could tag along.
Patrick, Doug and I loaded up Doug’s boat and SUV one afternoon. We headed up to the south side of Lake Okeechobee, where Patrick’s permit was valid. Once we got to beautiful South Bay, FL, we stopped at a gas station to gas up the boat. As we’re fueling, Doug realized that he forgot the keys to the boat. Seriously. Now, this is where I envy Doug – he took it all in stride. He started trying to find something to start the boat, meanwhile he’s saying that we’ll just go grab beers and hunt a different night if it doesn’t work out. Eventually he figures out that his knife is able to make the connection necessary to start the boat. Oh – did I mention that the boat keys were with the boat registration? Just picture us, heavily armed, on a boat with a knife in the ignition, and no registration papers. Love it.
Speaking of being heavily armed – we had quite the array of legal weapons:
-Bang stick with .44 magnum rounds
-Two huge fishing gaffs
-Handgun – not for gator hunting, solely for gator hunting gone horribly wrong
So, after scrambling around town to find oil for the boat and ponchos, we made it to the boat ramp! However, when we backed the trailer down the ramp, we discovered that the water was not deep enough to launch the boat. After a few attempts by the boys, they called in reinforcement. I stepped up to the helm. I was the lightest one, and they were the strongest. I was supposed to floor it in reverse while they pushed the boat off the trailer. After a bit of a struggle, it moved! And when it jolted to a stop, Doug’s compound bow fell ON MY HEAD. Ouch! A few weeks ago, we were out on the same boat, and Doug hit a wave the wrong way, which launched me off my butt and onto my side, with my rib hitting the edge of the plastic seat. So, Doug and his boat are responsible for a cracked rib and a bump on my head.
We finally had the boat in the water, and Doug said we’d worry about getting it back out when the time came. Brilliant! We cruised around looking for potential gator spots before the sun went down. We set up gear and start practicing. The plan is to shoot with a bow and arrow, reel it in on a line attached to the arrow, catch it with a home-made snare, and then use the bang-stick to finish the job. This is all done according to a HUGE book of rules. It’s decided that Doug will shoot the arrow, and Patrick will reel it in, leaving yours truly to drive the boat. In the dark. Without a depth sounder. Or a GPS.
There are gators EVERYWHERE. Most of them that we see are too small to be hunted. So, we settle into a spot and wait as the sun goes down. While we were waiting, the wind died, and the bugs swarmed. I have never seen so many bugs in my life!!
We had the spot light ready, and started moving. You could see the gators because their eyes reflect red in the spot light. Every time we got close enough, the gator would drop below the surface. After many encounters with gators that were too small, we moved to a different spot. We did this for HOURS.
Finally – we spotted one big enough! I took the wheel and drove straight at the gator, as directed… and ran into a sandbar. Foiled. Doug got the boat free and we moved to a different, hopefully deeper, location. After cruising by a pick-up truck that was halfway underwater – how DOES that happen? – we spotted another one! It was in a sort of cove off of the lake. We set up, gloves on, bows ready, me at the helm… CRUNCH! We ran aground AGAIN!! It was like that gator knew there was a shallow spot with rocks and he wanted to lead us right onto them. We freed the boat – again – and decided to call it a night.
Doug’s boat survived, I survived, and all of the gators in Lake Okeechobee survived.
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