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Gator Hunting
Published Thursday, October 09, 2008 8:46 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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After 40 years, the alligators are in season again. From Sept. 13 to Oct. 11 hunters from as far away as Utah gathered for a chance to hunt alligators. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued 1,000 permits this season for the chance to kill an alligator. According to the DNR site the state currently has more than 100,000 alligators. Doing the math, that means more than 99,000 will be left. The hunt is not doing much for population control but it will give 1,000 hunters the ability for some tall tales.

Ron Russell, alligator guide, uses a spotlight to find alligators along the banks of the Cooper River as hunter Jeff Bannister, of Greenville, watches and waits.
Now, I am no hunter nor have I ever killed anything other than your average cockroach (or Palmetto Bug according to South Carolinians). When my family hunted deer, I fell asleep in my blind. On fishing trips, I opted for the beach rather than a day wading in water fearful of stepping on a sting ray. Suffice to say I am not patient enough to hunt.

Given the chance though I definitely wanted to go on an alligator hunt. Why? When I went deer hunting, the deer didn't bite back! Can't get much more exciting than that.

Only after sun goes down is it possible to spot alligators. Hunters use search lights which reflect red glow from the alligator's eyes.

I contacted Ron Russell of Gator Getters Consultants and asked to tag along on a hunt. Russell has been capturing gators for years going out on nuisance calls and educating the public on alligator safety. He set me up with Jeff Bannister, of Greenville, who received his hunter's permit through the computerized draw, and the three of us set out to find alligators on the Cooper River at dusk.

Little known fact to me at the time, alligator hunting is conducted at night. The best way to find one of these creatures is to shine a light and look for glowing red eyes. Kind of creepy, even more so when you realize how many of these guys live in the rivers we occupy every weekend.

Ron Russell calls out to surrounding alligators using a sound mimicking a female.

After checking my life insurance policy, I slipped on the steel-toe boots and headed out. For some strange reason I threw my leatherman knife into my bag like is was going to offer some sort of protection against an alligator. I joked with friends that a miracle might take place on the river because if an alligator came after me there would be walking on water.

Soon after dusk, Russell stopped the boat and started making female alligator sounds. I can't make the sound myself but can download it from iTunes. No joke, its right there next to the new Metallica album.

Russell sets a crossbow which will be used by Bannister to catch the alligator.

What seemed like an empty river came alive after dark. Russell pointed out multiple gators in one spot just scanning the river banks with a spotlight.

Some were afraid or bothered by the light and would sink into the water. Others would let you pull right up next to them. At one point I could have reached out and touched a gator I was photographing. Russell explained that the alligators feel safe under the water and think you can't see them so they remain still.

An alligator sits just below the water surface.
I grew up around boats and loved being on the water. Watching the sunset on the water was peaceful. The sight of ducks flying overhead, historic plantations lining the banks and the sounds of frogs filled the evening air. As Bannister exclaimed, nights like this lower the blood pressure.

Jeff Bannister scans the river banks for the red glowing eyes of alligators.

For the next couple of hours they followed the same scenario of using lights and pulling up beside the gators to see how big they were. Russell would guide the boat and Bannister stood ready with a cross bow. I had fun shooting off the back of the boat at the moon. If you look hard enough stars can be seen through the clouds. Don't ask me how I have stars in my photo off the back of a moving boat. Not much light pollution out on the water.

For the nature enthusiast, there is more to the river than alligator hunting. A view after sunset from the back of the boat.

As the night wore on, the expectation levels dropped on the size of the gator. What once was a hunt for a 13-foot alligator now had been lowered to anything bigger than six feet. It gets cold on that water at about 1 a.m. When it gets that cold steam rises off the water and coats everything including my camera gear.

After using a harpoon, Bannister holds the line as Russell uses a hook to bring the alligator to the surface.

After navigating a couple of coves, Russell maneuvered the boat through a rice field and found a gator buried in the grass under water. After some discussion on the size of the gator a spear was pulled out. At this point I was getting a bit nervous. It was all fun and games up to this point in time but now we were about to add another party to our cozy boat. This guest had more teeth than all of us combined and was not afraid to use them.

After the alligator is killed the mouth is taped to make sure the teeth don't get a hold of anything.

I had one job, when the gator is speared, turn on all the lights on the boat. I was probably just as excited as the others at this point. And then as soon as it began, it was over. The gator gave little resistance and was killed within minutes of being speared. The mouth was taped, the legs tied, the hunting tag applied and it was finished.

All the anxiety, all the sleepless nights dreaming of wrestling the beast with my bare hands and any other visions my imagination could create leading up to this point; it was so simple. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't suggest taking alligator hunting lightly, it just seemed so easy with an experienced guide.

Bannister smokes a cigar after getting his first alligator.

After the catch, Bannister said this was the first gator he had killed and was wanting to make a belt and watch band from the skin. He said the meat was good eating and was given tips on storing the processed gator once he got home. It was almost too obvious to ask, does it taste like chicken?

Bannister and Russell lit a cigar and we hunkered down for the cold ride back to the docks.

Jeff Bannister lays out his alligator to get a measurement after loading the boat on a trailer. The alligator measured just over 7 ft.

After a long night watching them, I came away with an admiration for the alligator. A very crafty creature that is really only threatened by other alligators and humans. Makes sense that they are so tough considering they have survived since the time of the dinosaur.

Comments (18)

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This is Awsome
Thursday, October 23, 2008 5:40 AM

I love the story. The photos are great and the story well written. You've managed to capture all three things, the gator, the reader, and the hater!!!! Anita needs to understand that it is the strong who survive and the need to control population even if we only take 1000 gators we are reducing the chances of human and gator confrontations. You can always go down to the river and cuddle up to one of the gators and try to explain this to him!!! Maybe next year they will give out 5000 licenses and I can bag a new pair of boots. Of course thats after I get out of Iraq!!!!

Posted by: Berkeley Wrestlers Dad
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 4:21 AM

Story and pics are great. Hated to see it come to an end. What's next?

Posted by: Christi
This is Great story via photos
Saturday, October 18, 2008 11:19 AM

Can you add voice commentary? Hope to see more topics in the future.

Posted by: KIM Nguyen
Great Photos!
Thursday, October 16, 2008 11:50 PM

We love the photos. We look forward to the next posting. Keep your gators in South Carolina.

Posted by: The Mineo's
Awesome photos and story
Thursday, October 16, 2008 3:01 PM

I did not know that you could eat alligator's meat??? I don't think I even want to try though...

Posted by: Teuschler of Winston-Salem
Awesome Blog
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 7:01 PM

Love the photos and the story was so well written. Comment about itunes and Metallic was great. My favorite photo was the one taken from the back of the boat of the clouds - so nice. Looking forward to more adventures!

Posted by: Joanne
These are great!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 6:52 PM

I hope you keep on adding more galleries of photos.

Posted by: Cindy
Awesome Photo's
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 4:27 PM

Love the pictures! Look's like you really enjoyed this experience.

Posted by: Shannon
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 2:04 AM

Beautiful photos until the harpoon, hook , and dead gator. I don't understand the thrill of killing something that is minding its own business. Maybe the gators got a good laugh listening to the female mating call. There are so many other things going on in this world to focus our energy on- why this?

Posted by: Anita
Gator Man!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 6:48 PM

Good job Jeff! I know how bad you wanted to snag a gator! Alice wants a pocketbook! Great photos!

Posted by: Chief
Hola from Texas.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 6:03 PM

Be sure to save the skin for me. Momma needs a new purse and shoes.

Posted by: Gretchen
Good Eats!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 4:04 PM

It actually does taste like chicken, though the texture is more like a pork chop. Beautiful job, Paul!

Posted by: Irene Abrego
What A Hunting Experience !!!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 3:48 PM

Great story and photos! I bet it must be scaring to stay close to even a dead alligator. We're glad that your dream of wrestling with that creature doesn't come true.

Posted by: The Nguyen-Katy
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 2:19 AM

Great pictures, stars and all! Thanks for sharing this extraordinary adventure. Don't know where the big ones were hiding but over 7 ft. long wasn't shabby. Good job!!

Posted by: Betty Zoeller
Monday, October 13, 2008 11:37 PM

Hi Uncle Burl!!!!!! This is your neices and nephews!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Congrats! Luv ya!!!! The Carr Family

Posted by: the Carr Family
Thanks for coming along.
Monday, October 13, 2008 10:30 PM

I was hoping we could get a bigger one. You took some great pictures. JB Bannister

Posted by: Jeff Bannister
Great photoblog!
Sunday, October 12, 2008 11:03 AM

Brilliant!!! It absolutely made me feel as if I were there. Can't wait to see more!!!

Posted by: Melissa
Great Photos!
Sunday, October 12, 2008 3:28 AM

Your photos are great! This is an interesting story, too!

Posted by: Darren

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