Slaying Dragons

August has come and almost gone. Fishing in the August heat is tough. Deer season is still a ways away, but close enough to start getting excited about. So what do we do in August to pass the time to get us closer to archery season, or cooler weather to make fishing more enjoyable? We go alligator hunting.

The Mississippi alligator season began on Friday and is now in full swing. The 10 day season provides hunters with the opportunity of a lifetime in trying to kill the apex predator in the state of MS. The state awards 960 tags divided up between 7 different zones. Hunters apply for tags in early June with the hopes of being drawn to partake in the ultimate test of outdoor bravado. At the time of this article I have already seen pictures of quite a few large gators harvested across the state. Hunters have the opportunity to harvest one large gator of over 7 feet in length and one slot gator that can be between 4 and 7 feet. The gators have to be caught with a rod/reel, harpoon, or bowfishing tackle then dispatched with a shotgun at close range. It is a riveting experience and provides for great fellowship in the outdoors. I’ve been on quite a few trips with friends through the years and was fortunate enough to draw tags last season. I did not get tags this year, but hope to make a trip before the season ends with a couple of lucky friends that have tags.

Speaking of last season, I had the trip of a lifetime! I was drawn for tags in the Southwest zone of the state which encompasses everything south of Interstate 20 and west of Interstate 55. To me, it is the absolute best zone to kill a big gator because of all of the access to public water in this zone. We decided to try our luck on an oxbow lake off of the Mississippi River. My cousin, Hunter, made the trip with me to meet some friends in Port Gibson in hopes of finding a big gator. This is where the trip already gets interesting. If you know anything about trips that I’ve been on that involve my cousin then you know it usually ends up with one of us having to make a trip to the emergency room. Our families probably spent the entire time we were on this trip in constant prayer that we would both survive. We hadn’t even arrived at the river yet when we ran across a very large rattlesnake in the road. I told Hunter that I had a machete in the backseat and to hop out and kill the snake. Of course, he looked at me like I was crazy and made sure that I knew it. He instead opted for a frog gig that I had in the back of the truck. Stabbing a rattlesnake in the road with a frog gig is not as easy as it sounds apparently. With a car approaching us as we were sitting in the middle of the road, Hunter stabbed the snake with the gig and threw it in the back of the truck. He hopped back in the truck and off toward the river we went. Just one thing, the snake was not dead he told me. Not dead!!! You mean we’ve got a ticked off, bleeding rattlesnake in the back of my truck? When we arrived at the river I found out the answer to that question was yes. We made sure before we hit the water that we definitely killed the snake. The last thing I wanted was to return to the truck the next morning having forgot about the snake only to end up with fang marks in my body and another cousin trip to the ER.

My friends arrived at the ramp to the Mississippi River and we got the boat in the water. We made a rather short trip to our destination and began to search for that perfect gator. Fortunately, the friends that accompanied us on this trip are alligator gurus. These guys seemingly harvest a gator well over 10 feet long each season. To say they know what they are doing is a major understatement. They are the best at it. We aren’t on the water very long until we hook up to a couple of smaller gators. The first one is about 8 feet long. It’s too small to keep for our big gator tag and too large to be the slot gator. Nonetheless, it provides us with some action and some practice before we find the one we are looking for. We troll around for an hour or so and finally see what we are looking for. There is seemingly a large gator making his way through the middle of the oxbow lake. This is a good sign as large gators tend to run the open areas more than smaller ones. We make our first cast on the gator using a large, weighted treble hook. The cast is successful and off we go. The gator begins to pull the boat around with ease. Now we know for sure that we are hooked up to a large one. After just a few minutes the hook comes loose and my heart sinks a little. Will we be able to find this bad boy again, or will he lay on the bottom and wait us out? It doesn’t take long and he’s back up again. We cast toward him a couple of more times and finally get the hook in him again. This time he’s hooked really well and I feel confident we will have a chance to land him. The large gator pulls us around for about 45 minutes before we have a chance to harpoon him. We are able to get close enough to stick him right behind the head with the harpoon. Now we have two lines in him, thus making it easier to control the gator and further wear him out, before he wears all of us out. Finally the large reptile has lost his fight and we are able to tie him up to the boat and dispatch him with a 20 gauge shotgun. He measures out at 12′ and weighs 550 pounds. He is an absolute giant! I cannot control my excitement for our good fortune. My heart is nearly leaping from my chest as we begin to pull him aboard the boat. Once in the boat with us, we look around and realize that we don’t have enough room to try and kill our slot gator. We also realize that we’ve still got to make our way back across the Mississippi River with an extra 550 pounds in the boat with us. We decide to call it a night and head back to Port Gibson with our heads held high and our boat riding low. We arrive back at the camp a little after midnight and use the tractor to get the gator out of the boat for the ensuing photoshoot. After enough pictures were taken we load the gator into the walk-in cooler for the evening to prepare him to be cleaned in the morning.

As I lay down to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but smile. It was the perfect adventure shared with family and good friends. It was an even better bonus that myself or Hunter didn’t end up with stitches or any broken bones. That’s what alligator hunting is all about. It’s about the adventure and time spent in the beautiful Mississippi outdoors. I can’t wait to make my next trip!

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