Friday, August 26, 2011

The Gator Hunters

Ever been "Gator Huntin'"?  Me neither.

Austin and I dumped an airboat, the most dangerous form of aquatic conveyance in the world, captained by a man I'd never, met into Mobile Bay - a location I've never visited, in the dark; with absolutely no synapse firing in our brains other than a vague sense that we fully intended to capture and kill a live alligator.  I had a knife a camera a life jacket and a flashlight. Austin had a hat on. That, in essence, comprised our entire survival kit.

We left the dock at roughly 930PM with a roar, practiced on floating debris for a bit with the gator harpoon, and we were off. 

Mobile bay is not exactly a backwater location.  It was, in fact, quite populous with fishermen, docks, and bridges. It was also quite populous with alligators. I quit counting inside of 20 minutes at "75".  Between the hours of 10PM and 4AM we saw over 300 individual alligators - probably 100 of which were over 8ft long.  The next day we passed over the bay on our way to dinner and saw...waterskiers.

If there is one thrill I'm not willing to tempt a 12ft gator into attacking me over - its having a big outboard motor drag me all over the pond with boards strapped to my feet. Sounds like a blast, but I don't want to be selfish: I'll let you soak up all that fun for both of us.  To me it sounds about like hang-gliding over the lion cage, but don't let me slow you down.

The airboat guide would basically come flying down the bay with a spotlight then cut the rudder hard towards a set of glowing-orange eyes and kick it. We'd run straight at the gator until he started to get furious, then the guide would swing hard right to put the diving gator on the port side - which is perfect for a right-handed throw.

Our final contestant was successfully harpooned by Austin with what amounts to a modified shovel handle with a detachable harpoon head on it. This particular gator (all 10' 6" 300lbs of him) took two harpoons and about 30' of line w/styrofoam floats, then proceeded to snap the harpoon in half and bite the heads off two steel shark gaffs. After that he bit holes all in the side of the boat and tried to kill me, the guide, and Austin in four-part-harmony.
At one point the guide suffered an attack of some sort and began horsely screaming "GRAB HIS OTHER LEG. GET IN THERE JIMMY DAMMIT GET IN THERE. DAMN YOU" while viciously applying his right Sebago to my posterior.

I was, in short, "reluctant."

In order to comply with the Captain's orders I had to go chest-deep headfirst over the side, grab the gator's left leg, and pull. That put his left eye and my left eye literally 1" apart. At that point two wraps of electrical tape and a college education start to look pretty silly. 

Staring fully into the depths of his unblinking, yellow, reptilian eyes was life-changing. I haven't felt that intensely loathed by any creature since Mandy '03 and I could tell - he really did want to eat me. I've never experienced "wanting to be eaten" by a carnivore before. It was truly refreshing - so much so that I felt it incumbent upon me to mull the moment over from my favorite thinking spot high atop the propeller cage.

Eventually, Austin and the guide got the front of the boat over him and wrapped his jaws shut with electrical tape while I hopped up and down on top of the motor offering sage bits of wisdom. Then, all three of us had to drag the live, furious gator on board and I had to HOLD HIM DOWN while Austin basically killed him with a bowie knife. 

It was exciting.

We returned to the public boat ramp around 4AM, at which point the guide slid the dead 10' 6" gator off his boat with a meaty thud, shook Austin's hand and wished us a hearty good luck with the skinning process.  7AM found us still publicly skinning a gator to the intense delight of 45 various fishermen who showed up that morning to put their boats in at the ramp. It was a four-alarm goat rodeo of epic proportions, complete with commentary.
Hey. wheredja kill that thang
where you guys from
is that hard
did you kill it
is it dead
it dont look dead
wharabouts where you
what time is it
you guys tired
you look tired
boy im glad i aint got to skin that thang
boy that thang stanks
wherebouts you from. not mobile prolly. hey earl wherebouts you think they from
you want all that meat ill tradja some crappie
hey look here ralph
(ralph) dammit lijah - get in the boat
hey fellers can i get a pitchur.
can you guys move over a bit
hey guys wait right there let me go get my kids.
here little tommy sit on the gators head

It was exhausting....
....but I guess that's just part of being gator hunters!

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