Most people know that hunters chase elk in September. It’s the time of the year, and the season, that we all look forward to. After hot summer months there is something refreshing about the high altitude cold and the sound of screaming bulls. I control our filming schedule, and I did something different this year. I booked an alligator hunt in Florida instead. Why? Because I wanted to. We drew tags through the lottery system, we love gator meat, and it was the perfect time for us to tag a few gators prior to our busy fall filming schedule.
Hunting alligators is different than most people might think. I guess some guides have different styles of hunting them, and the way we chose to go about it was a little more dramatic than most. We ride on the front of a boat in the middle of the night while holding onto our weapon of choice. That weapon can be a bow, a crossbow, or a harpoon. All of them have buoys attached to a rope, and the point is to tag the animal with the buoy. After you tag the animal, you follow the buoy, pull it up to the boat, and harvest the animal with a bang stick.
We all know that alligators hide up on the banks, slightly submerged, while their yellow glowing eyes watch us. The system our guides use is to run the boat up on the gator as fast as possible, while judging the size of the animal, and then releasing the arrow as soon as we have a clear shot. If it’s a really big alligator then sometimes we’ll put multiple buoys into it just to be sure.
In Florida it’s required by law to use a bang stick to harvest the alligator after you get them up to the boat. Imagine a gun that looks like a broomstick… It has a .357 caliber bullet inside, and you tap the animal on the head, right between the eyes, while it’s slightly under the water. As soon as the end of the stick makes contact water explodes everywhere. It’s actually a more humane way of finishing the hunt than many other methods, so I completely agree that this should be a regulation.
On this trip to Florida I harvested my largest alligator to date. It put up a great fight, and at one point it actually bit the side of the boat right next to my foot. Watching it roll in the water, watching it come up from the depths of the murky river, and harvesting it with my own hands was something I’ll never forget.
In order to keep the alligator population balanced and to keep the number of nuisance gators at a minimum the state of Florida issues both nuisance tags and trophy tags every year. We’ve participated in nuisance hunts, but this was our first time going after trophy gators. It’s a good balance, considering that there is an estimated 1.2 million alligators living in Florida.
I grew up in the Midwest, so alligators are not an animal that I knew much about until my adult life. The more I chase them in the wild, and as I learn more about their habitat and history, the more I adore spending the first week of elk season chasing these mammals instead. Maybe not every year, but I wouldn’t trade these memories or this hunt for anything.
Did you know that scientist believe that the alligator species is over 150 million years old?! They survived about 65 million years longer than other dinosaurs! They are classified as reptiles, but they are more closely related to birds (whose ancestors were dinosaurs!)