John's Journal...


The First Hunt

Click to enlarge Editor's Note: I can’t think of anything more exciting than hunting big bull aggressive alligators with a bow. This week I’ll take you with me on a thrilling alligator hunt. Alligator hunting is primarily a southern sport since gators don’t do well in snow. Because regulations vary from state to state on seasons, bag limits and equipment you can use, always check the laws in the state where you plan to hunt.

Before I went to Florida to hunt gators, I studied them and I learned . . .
* the name alligator came from the Spanish word, el largato, meaning the lizard and
* the southeastern United States and eastern China laid claim to the only places in the world where crocodilians of the genus Alligator lived.

When Mike Waller of Birmingham, Alabama, and I arrived at Panama Click to enlargeCity, we met Groom and followed him to a swampy area in the Florida Panhandle. At the boat ramp that night, I first met John Tadlock and Eugene Wheeler, both professional gator hunters and our guides for the evening's hunt. "Let's take two boats," Tadlock said. "Then we can keep the gator out in the open where we can get a shot." Groom, Tadlock and I got in a 12-foot skiff while Waller and Wheeler launched the second craft. Tadlock announced he had a test gator downriver about 8- or 9-feet long. "I thought we'd go to that gator first and attempt to call it out to the middle of the river. Then you guys can see what a hunt will be like. "John, you can shoot the flash on your camera and see what the gator will do when you try and photograph it. Ronnie, you can stand up in the boat, prepare for the shot and get an idea about what's going to happen if we get a big gator to come in to us." Groom had decided to use a heavy fiberglass Muzzy fish arrow with 250-pound braided wire cable attached to it and wound around a spool on the front of his 60-pound Browning bow. An avid bowhunter and an archery instructor for many years, Groom felt confident he had the equipment to deal a big gator a lethal blow and that the strong cable could pull a large gator in to our boat. Although Groom had taken hundreds of deer and various other species of animals with his bow, he never had tried to bag a gator with his bow.

Click to enlargeAs we motored downstream three or four miles, Tadlock finally spotted a gator on the bank with his strong light. "Get ready," he instructed, "and stay out of the light. We don't want the gator to see any shadows as it moves toward us." Tadlock gave light chirping sounds like "Mraaaak! Mraaaak!” In the beam from the light, I saw two mirror-like eyes swimming toward us. I readied my camera while Groom stood on the front of the boat and prepared to draw. When the gator swam about 10 feet from the boat, Groom made his draw and aimed. "If you're going to get a picture, take it now, John," Tadlock coached. When I snapped the picture with my 35mm camera, the 8-foot gator pulled its head back and sunk beneath the surface. "O.K., now we know you can't shoot photography until after Ronnie gets a shot at a gator with his bow," Tadlock observed.

We went downriver and called a 9-foot gator. We tested my flash. Groom once again went through all the motions of a shot except actually releasing the arrow. Then we motored to a backwater area off the main river where Tadlock spotted the biggest gator yet. As Tadlock continued to call, the wide-eyed gator that had pushed the tree limb under the water came for our boat. "Get ready to shoot that gator, Ronnie," Tadlock said. "I think this is the one we want." As Groom stood up in the boat, I only could see two eyes and a chin coming straight at us. When the gator got closer, I realized from its tail that this bull gator was at least 10-feet long or more. Once 8 feet from the boat, the gargantuan gator turned sideways. I was horrified at the size of the reptile.

"Take the shot, Ronnie," Tadlock whispered urgently from the back of Click to enlargethe boat. Groom stood at full draw and aimed straight for the huge gator's neck. But when he released the arrow, I watched the arrow travel about 6 feet, stop and fall in the water. The Goliath-sized gator pulled its head back and dove for the bottom. When I asked Groom what happened to his perfect shot, he explained disappointedly that, "the cable tightened down around the spool on the front of the bow. It didn't peel off like string would have. I can't believe the arrow stopped, and we didn't get the gator. That's the biggest alligator I've ever seen." I worried aloud, "That gator's larger than the boat. What will we do if we shoot something that big?" Tadlock observed, "That alligator's well over 10-feet long, probably 12 to 13 feet, and will weigh well over 500 pounds. I've never seen a gator that big before."

"Will we get another chance at the gator?" I questioned with hope in my voice. "It's doubtful," Tadlock said. Disappointment swept over our small crafts like a plague on the old sailing ships. We all felt we'd blown a chance of a lifetime. But Tadlock suggested we go downriver and see if we could find another gator. "Then we'll come back to this lizard in about an hour and try and call him again." As we continued to hunt, we didn't locate another alligator. In an hour, we returned to the large, fallen tree where we first had seen the enormous bull gator.



Check back each day this week for more about THE GREAT GATOR HUNT ...

Day 1 - The Beginning Of The Hunt
Day 2 - The First Hunt
Day 3 - War With The Gator
Day 4 - The Final Battle
Day 5 - Gator Hunting Saves The Wetlands



Entry 263, Day 2