I am always on the lookout for an excuse to book a hunt, so when my boss told me he needed me at a conference in Orlando, Florida, I immediately thought of alligator hunting in the Everglades. The first step in any successful hunt is research and being a member of Safari Club International (SCI) helped me to determine what size of gator would be worth going after. SCI’s record book has a place for bronze, silver, or gold entries. The gold standard requires you to harvest a gator 11 feet 6 inches or better in length. I decided I would try to find an outfitter who would give me a reasonable chance at going for the gold.
My flight to Orlando was delayed due to massive thunderstorms. I didn’t arrive at the airport until after midnight. I still had a two-hour drive ahead of me to get into gator country before I could get some sleep. I awoke groggy, jetlagged and thinking I’m not in any condition to go hunt a 900-pound predator. I met my outfitter, Scott Swartley with Custom Adventures in the hotel lobby.
Scott told me it wasn’t necessary for me to bring my rifle, that he would supply me with one. I hesitantly agreed and when Scott handed me a little .22-250 Rem. to shoot with I was really regretting my decision.
“Its all about shot placement,” said Scott. “If you don’t hit the right spot you aren’t going to kill the gator.”
The area we where hunting had little fingers of land stretching for miles in various directions surrounded by water on both sides. The mouth of a pond had been baited with the carcass of an old hog and the gators had been making a mess out of it.
I had specified the size of gator I was looking for and they had found a giant gator and were saving it for me. The trick now was to track down this monster. Although we saw over 12 to 15 alligators in a short time we couldn’t find the one we were looking for.
“That’s him over there, he just surfaced,” said Scott. The gator turned and looked straight at us and then went under water. Scott cursed and said, “ It’s over.”
“Won’t he resurface?” I asked.
“Yes, but it could be quite awhile,” said Scott. “We can keep looking, lets go down a little farther.”
“Why,” I asked. “Isn’t this the one we want?” Scott reluctantly agreed, but explained we would have to wait the gator out. I laughed letting him know that I’m a whitetail hunter and that sitting all day would be no problem.
An hour or so later the gator reappeared, but once again it was looking straight at us. I was told not to shoot unless he turned sideways. He never turned, instead he sank back under the murky water.
“They don’t get that big by being dumb,” said Scott. He wanted to trick the old monster so he and his assistant walk back down the finger leaving me there on the bank. Scott said the gator would feel the vibrations of them leaving and would settle down allowing me a shot opportunity. I didn’t like the idea of me being alone laying down in a prone position with water in front of me and behind me, but Scott reassured me that the gators around the area where used to being hunted and where more afraid of me than I was of them. He obviously didn’t know how scared I was.
He reappeared an hour later not more than 40 yards away. He was broadside, but his eyes were barely above the water. I waited patiently for more of him to surface. The shot placement had to be perfect on such a small kill zone. I was sturdy, well practiced and when the target appeared I squeezed off a round. A second later Scott was next to me laughing, telling me congratulations. I hadn’t realized he had low crawled back and was that close to where I was. I wasn’t sure of my shot. I just saw water splash up after the shot then nothing. Scott was sure he was dead.
He went and got his very small boat and was going to go out and get my gator. I bravely told him I would wait on the bank. He paddled out and found a small sandbar in the middle of the channel. He then got out of the boat and used a treble hook to throw out to hook my gator to pull toward him. If my gator was not dead Scott soon would be. I told Scott again I wasn’t sure about my shot. He laughed at me and assured me he was dead and for me to relax. Thank God Scott was right. He hooked the gator tied a rope around his head and paddled back to the shore from there we dragged the 900-pound beast to shore. My trophy measured close to 12 feet long and currently is ranked the 22nd largest alligator ever taken according to the SCI record books. I was late getting to the seminar, but man did I have a story to tell!