Saving Alligator Season: A Unique Trip to a Familiar Place

Two weeks ago, the opportunity to go alligator hunting this year looked dim. Nobody in my circle had tags. Nobody knew anyone with tags that needed a hand. I even wrote a column stating that this would be the first season in a while that we didn’t go. With one email, everything changed.

Hurricane Ida rolled through on Sunday night, thankfully sparing the Pine Belt of any real damage, but it left a nice amount of small limbs in my yard. When the rain subsided on Monday, I began to clean up our yard. During the cleanup process, my phone beeped alerting me of a new email. I disregarded the email and kept cleaning up. When I finally sat down to look at it, I couldn’t believe what it was.

Jerry Pierce, of Petal, singlehandedly saved alligator season. He emailed me regarding the column on my first ever gator hunt, and told of how this was his first time to ever do it. He and a friend had already filled one of his tags, a five footer, and he didn’t want his other tag to go to waste. Say no more. I immediately called him, and we set up a trip to fill his last remaining tag. With one phone call to Matt Alliston, my gator hunting buddy, we were set up to go to Port Gibson for the last night of the season.

The plan was to meet at the Grand Gulf ramp on the Mississippi River at 6:30. As I turned onto the dirt road to the launch, I could hardly contain my excitement. Shoot, I was even early, a known rarity. You never know what awaits you once you put in on the Big Muddy, and that excites me. Speaking of the unknown, I didn’t mention that I, nor Matt, had never laid eyes on Jerry Pierce before this trip. His email to me was the first contact of any kind that we’d ever had. Alligator season is just that special. As I laid eyes on Jerry for the first time ever, my thoughts shifted from excited to hopeful. I hoped that we could show Mr. Jerry a good time, and help him fill his remaining tag in the process.

We launched the boat and headed across the river toward Yucatan Lake. Yucatan is where I killed a twelve footer a couple of years ago and is known to hold big gators. Along the way, I kept a close watch on the radar on my phone. Things were looking bad. We made the conservative choice to head back across the river to the truck to wait out the approaching thunderstorms. It might have been the best decision we made all night. Not long after returning to the boat launch, the wind began to howl, and the night sky lit up with lightning. We waited out the storm from the friendly confines of my truck.

The “rain delay” was a good time to learn more about each other. Mr. Jerry spoke at length about his family and his time working for Cooperative Energy. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that he worked there for 50 years before retiring a couple of years ago. It was obvious that Mr. Jerry loved the outdoors and loved meeting people. I don’t think that there was a single group of fishermen or alligator hunters that came by that he didn’t talk to. He was going to fit in just fine with us. Now, we just needed to get him a gator.

When the rain subsided, we launched the boat again. We decided to head up river to Davis Island, a place Matt has had success at before. The ride up takes about thirty minutes. Thirty minutes riding up the Mississippi River in the dark seems like an eternity. We finally arrived and began the search for Mr. Jerry’s gator. We hooked into a couple of gators, but neither were quite big enough for us. Mr. Jerry would have been more than satisfied with them, but we wanted to press on in hopes of landing a real Mississippi monster. We didn’t see what we were looking for at Davis Island, so we headed back down the river toward Yucatan.

Almost immediately after entering Yucatan Lake, we had alligators everywhere. Most of them were small, but every now and then we’d catch a glimpse of a gator that would potentially meet our standards. After being hunted for almost ten days, the gators were very skittish. There’s no telling how many boats and spotlights these gators have seen in the last two weeks. Every time we’d get fairly close to a gator, he’d swirl and disappear. We also had competition in Yucatan. There were a couple of other boats hunting that seemed to dart in each time I’d spot a decent looking gator. Eventually, we moved on.

We hunted all night. Just before 5:00 in the morning, we finally hooked up with a decent gator. He wasn’t quite up to our usual standards, but given how difficult it had been to see a large gator, we were more than happy to hook this one. It took a little longer than I’d like to admit to hook the gator, but I finally got him hooked and to the boat. Matt snared him and we dispatched him at 5:05. Just like that, alligator season was over for us.

Mr. Jerry was beyond giddy about his alligator. The swamp monster measured out at 8’6” long, the perfect size to eat. As I drove back home, exhausted, I thought about how neat this trip was. I was gifted another gator trip with a great friend and got to make a new friend in the process. I can’t thank Matt enough for his willingness to get up and go when I call. Friends like this are rare. And I can’t thank Mr. Jerry enough…for saving alligator season.

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