Aug 28 2009

First Florida Alligator Hunt

The history
I used to look forward to riding in my Dad’s pickup to Jet’s Florida Outdoors on Bird Rd in Miami, and pick up our quota hunt applications,  wile window shopping the store, and seeing the old timers exchange hunting stories.  I remember believing them as a kid and asking my dad, “why don’t we hunt where they hunt?” These guys were seeing deer left and right, while we were wallowing through the swamps of Loop Unit (that’s the area between Loop Rd. and Tamiami Trail), getting lucky to jump a deer, if that.  I didn’t realize until I got older, and started telling similar stories, that hunters and fisherman together, are mostly full of shit. 

So since I was good with computers, as soon as Florida Fish and Game started going online with their quota hunt system, I had the daunting task of getting the licenses, quota hunt permits, rules, etc. every. hunting. season.  This is still my job : (.

The permit
This year, I decided, “why not apply for a gator hunt?”.  Shoot, I see them all the time off of Tamiami Trail, we’re bound to get one.  So a few months later, when Florida Fish and Game sent me the “check your permit status” email, I had two gator tags waiting for payment.  The $250 beans I thought was kind of steep, but compared to what the non-residents pay, that’s nothin’.  So, without an airboat, I went home from work, and told my Old Man, “I’m going on a gator hunt, I don’t know on what, but I’m gonna do it, are you in?” 

Are you in?!?

He says, “OK, I guess we can take the canoe”.  We joked about it at first, until we realized there was no cheaper option.  And as time passed, it baked in our mind, that, we could actually do it.  The natives had done it this way in the past, why should we do it any different?  So I proceeded to read and explain to him “the manual”. Which in summary is this:
1) Find the alligator at night
2) Harpoon him with a special harpoon that will stay lodged under his skin, attached to a rope, so that you may tire him out.
3) Once he’s tired and you bring him in, get a noose around him to secure him.
4) Shoot him in the head with a bangstick.
Obviously, there a little more to it than that, but if you’re interested, read the manual here.

Yes, this canoe:
Broken Rib on CanoeLoosened Canoe Nose

The inventions
And we began to invent.  There’s the triple hook:
Home-made treble hook for alligator

The EMT harpoon:

DIY Harpoon

The canoe stabilizers, which were original made for sailing, but that’s an entirely different blog post:
DIY PVC Canoe Stabilizers

During this period, my cousing began to ask what we were up to, and was consequencially onboard.  He would sit on the floor, in the middle, of my XXX year old canoe, that was in “minimum condition for alligator hunting”.  Before he knew it, his truck was commissioned and we were off to scout.
Who needs a trailerAfter realizing how hard it was to load and unload the heavy canoe, we decided we needed a trailer.  So my Jet-Ski had to donate it…
Trailer DonationTrailer  used

We decided to scout once, about a month before the season, and saw gators all over the place.  It was exciting, as I love those creatures.  And without getting too much into the politics,
I’d just like to say that this was all their land until we humans came along and have pushed them to the small area left of Everglades and man-made canals.  We hunters pay a lot of money that goes into the conservation of the species, and are allowed to take a limited number that has been determined by scientists is the right number, to keep the population stable, and out of the city.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Now, back to the story, scouting day. We didn’t actually get in the water, there was no need during scouting season.  And then the rain came, and went.  And there was so much water, that the gators had places to go, so come hunting season, we didn’t see crap.  Little babies here and there, but nothing worth wasting a stamp on.  So we came back, and tried again, rowing down the canals, and again, and again.  And it wasn’t until the last day of the hunting season, that we lucked out, kind-of.

The hunt
It was a misty night, and the moon was partially out, so you could almost see clearly without the flashlights.  As soon as I parked the truck, I could see to eyes in the water, but with all the canoe comotion, they dissappeared.  The thing with hunting gators at night, is , you see these red eyes glaring back at you right over the water, but you don’t know how big the alligator is, until you get close enough.  And usually, if they realize you’re going towards them, they go under, and disappear.  The canal was extremely deep, so there was no shining down and spotting them.
So we finally get a good look at the same gator hiding in some lilly pads, on the sawgrass edge.  I got up, threw the harpoon, and missed completey.   I had practiced at home against a log, but it was different with a piece of rope at the end standing on a shaky canoe.
But the gator, just startled, came back up, so we went after it again, and it dissappeared.  This cat and mouse game continued for about 30 mins very slowly, until we where lined up right behind it. 
I whispered to my dad, “row very quietly and slowly”.  We got so close, that I could see his tail almost touching the canoe. My flashlight, hit his back and I could see how bid this alligator was.  It was about a 10 footer, with a back about 2.5 feet or so.  My eyes opened up huge.   I look back and tell my cousing, “broder tu vez el tamaño de ese animal” (translation: brother, do you see the size of that beast).  Before I finished he was already telling me, “tirale! tirale!  (translation: throw! throw!).  I licked my lips, threw as hard as I could towards his back, and with the same momentum dropped down into the shaky canoe.  It sounded like I had speared an Oak Tree, a deep resonating sound.  Everything was happening so fast!   Instantly, as soon as he got hit, he whacked his tail and went under, leaving a splash, wake, and a rocking canoe.   Not a second after, when I hit the seat, the rope started taking off.  So I grabbed it.  I was going to pull a little and give a little.  Pull a little and give a little?  I don’t know what the heck I was thinking!  As soon as I grabbed the rope, just enough to slow it down, it lodged itself against the edge of the canoe, and the front of the canoe went left.  I tried to go right, but found myself, straight up again, so I had to bail before I ended up under the canoe.  Nothing worse than a canoe and alligatore sandwich.  In my fathers words, “I was in the back, I saw the whole thing, You guys were going down and to the left, so I leaned right, and was catapulted in the air”.  Soon as we all surfaced, the first thing my dad says, “so did you let go of the rope?! where’s the rope?!?”.  That’s one of those character-building moments I guess, we’ll call it that for now.

In the water
On the way down, my foot kicked something, but being that it was completely dark, I coudn’t see.  I figured I had kicked my cousin or something, but he was nowhere to be found.  So I didn’t ask, until later, when I found out, nobody got kicked, and that was probably the gator, who was just as scared as we were.  My cousing was long gone, making a hell of a splash, when I said, “hay que salvar la canoa!” (“we need to save the canoe”.  To which he responded, “olvidate de eso!, nader coño” (forget the canoe and swim!! SWIM!).  By that time adrenaline was in full dose, and I was cracking up.  The canoe, which only had one bouyant side, since the other side’s foam had deteriorated, sunk.  vertically.  I tried standing on the tip to see if I could spot the gator, and it just sank more.  So the canal was at least 20 ft deep.  In the end, we all made it shore, and the gator popped up again.  We were wet, missing an antique Penn Rod, and a whole mess of other stuff I can’t remember.  But the bangstick was salvaged.  So we went after him again, just in case the rope was still attached.  He stayed pretty clear of us, but we could see his back was empty.  So he probably shook it loose.

Soaking wet, and gatorless, on the last day of the season, inexperience persevered.  And while I had two years to get a Jonj boat, I refuse.  I don’t mind gator hunting from an Airboat, or a Jon boat, but first, the task needs to be accomplished via canoe.  Come this June/July, I hope to get that chance again.  This time, I’ll attach the rope to a buoy, and hopefully, there won’t be any other painful mistakes unaccounted for.  Until then, see you later,  Alligator!

Alligator Hunt Ready