Stalking Modern Day Dinosaurs

Hunting South Florida’s apex predator — the American alligator — can produce a pucker factor that’s off the charts.

Stalking Modern Day Dinosaurs

The author took this 250-pound alligator using a Benelli Lupo rifle topped with EOTech's Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope.

Rolling around a 100,000-acre sugarcane farm in southern Florida, near Lake Okeechobee, my friends and I were spot-and-stalk hunting for large bull alligators in an environment that was uniquely foreign to me. I was told that more than 62 percent of the world’s sugar comes from sugarcane and approximately 440,000 acres are planted in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), making it the most extensively grown row crop in the Sunshine State. Production is primarily on land along or near the southern half of Lake Okeechobee. 

I was in awe of the countless types of wildlife that inhabit this part of the country — an array of bugs, birds, snakes, reptiles, wild hogs, bears, and all sorts of predators. But there was no doubt that the apex predator in this neighborhood was the American alligator. 

This was like no other hunt I have been on, in an ecosystem of aquatic plant life unlike anywhere else I have ventured and opened my eyes to an entirely new and different big-game creature and the unique habitat where it thrives. The property we were hunting was massive, but our guide, Justin, estimated that our hunt touched only 1 to 2 percent of the huntable area they have access to. But in that small footprint alligators were all over the place, lurking in almost every water source. To be honest, it was a bit unnerving. Equally impressive was our guide’s keen ability to judge the size and age of any alligator we encountered by just seeing the tip of its head sticking out of the water. 

To me they all looked the same. But Justin would quickly tally them up: “That’s a 6-footer. That one will go seven-and-a-half feet. That one is a 10-footer.” And what we all wanted to hear, “That one is a tank!” It was like being on a predator hunt in terrain you are not familiar with, but where your hunting guide or partner is right at home. Somehow, they pick out a coyote at a distance that you missed. I have heard this referred to as “woods eyes.” Maybe this could be considered “gator eyes,” this skill learned over time and with much interaction in this predator’s environment. 

We also learned that our guide’s team collects alligator eggs at certain times each year for conservation efforts and delivers them to alligator farms. To make this happen they go right into the nesting areas of large female alligators. The shocking part is that most times mama is present, which to me sounds like an extremely tense situation!

The largest of the alligators taped out at 11 feet, 6 inches long. The team's guide said it was probably 45 to 50 years old. A basketball-size portion of its lower jaw was missing — the result of doing battle with another gator.
The largest of the alligators taped out at 11 feet, 6 inches long. The team's guide said it was probably 45 to 50 years old. A basketball-size portion of its lower jaw was missing — the result of doing battle with another gator.

Flesh Eating Dinosaurs!

This description from National Geographic about this species’ characteristics sums it up well. “One look at these menacing predators — with their armored, lizard-like bodies, muscular tails and powerful jaws — and it is obvious they are envoys from the distant past. The species, scientists say, is more than 150 million years old, managing to avoid extinction 65 million years ago when their prehistoric contemporaries, the dinosaurs, died off. American alligators reside nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps and marshes of the southeastern United States, primarily Florida and Louisiana, where adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes and small mammals. However, they are opportunists, and a hungry gator will eat just about anything, including carrion, pets and, in rare instances, humans.” So, we were hunting flesh-eating dinosaurs! 

I certainly felt on edge while stalking in their environment and then, once one of us had made a successful shot, hauling these ancient creatures out of the canals, onto the banks and loading them up. The smallest gator we killed was north of 250 pounds and most of them kept on moving well after they took a bullet to the brain. These bull gators seemed to never quite expire and were constantly cracking their tails and moving around even after they were clearly no longer with us — at times opening their eyes and staring at us with that eerie gaze. Sensing that I was a bit edgy, my hunting partners thought it was hilarious to pinch or poke me right at the perfect moment, causing me to jump out of my shoes. It was not all that funny at the time.


First Up to Bat

I was up first and soon had a good opportunity at what my guide said was a shooter — not a tank but a solid, mature male. As we approached, the gator showed us only a small portion of his head and eyes — his size and length invisible under the water, mostly hidden inside a culvert. I could barely see him, with the only visible portion of his body being the crown of his head, which was mostly covered with duckweed. Lucky for me, my guide is a master at making an incredible gator call and once we were set, he laid into it. The gator raised up slightly, allowing me to see my shot and get ’er done. The bull gator measured 9 feet, 4 inches and weighed roughly 250 pounds. 

We had been instructed to target a very small spot behind and below the gator’s eyes — an area about 2 inches tall by 4 inches wide — and if we were off by much we were told we could be in for a difficult recovery. Minutes before I shot, my guide belted out this very memorable line: “Florida state law requires that the shooter must go in and recover his game, swimming the canal if necessary.” At first, I believed his well delivered line and almost tapped out, but he relented and admitted that it was just a joke — but a good one. 

Next up was my good friend John Bailey, and when our guide described the alligator in front of us as a tank everything seemed to kick up on the intensity scale. John had a tough shot at about 70 yards with only a very small moving target floating above the water. He was shooting a Benelli Lupo .270-caliber rifle topped with EOTech’s new Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope — an optic that has the makeup that’s perfect for this style of hunting. In fact, our guide asked about purchasing one, which speaks volumes. 

John’s shot was a touch low — maybe an inch off — which led us to that “much more difficult recovery.” There was no doubt the gator was fatally hit as he catapulted his entire body out of the canal, belly up shining in the sun, only to slip back underwater. It took quite a bit more time and effort to not only recover the huge gator but getting him out of the canal took some serious teamwork. 

John’s alligator taped out at 11 feet, 6 inches and was estimated to weigh around 450 pounds. Our guide said it was probably 45 to 50 years old, a true beast. A basketball-size portion of his lower jaw was missing, the result of a battle with another alligator. It had healed over time but was something I had never seen before. I was later told at the processor that this is common with older gators.

The author took this bonus Osceola tom turkey during his Florida gator hunt.
The author took this bonus Osceola tom turkey during his Florida gator hunt.

Successful Hunt

Our group of five hunters were all successful and shot alligators ranging from 9 feet, 4 inches to 11 feet, 6 inches, with the larger ones considered real trophies and potentially weighing up to 500 pounds. As a bonus, our group nearly all tagged out on Osceola turkeys, and some even took the trifecta of a wild hog, an alligator and a turkey. This is a credit to the abundant wildlife in southern Florida, the fine-tuned hunting operation at Osceola Outdoors and the hard work of Mike Tussey and the guide team who spared no time and energy to make sure everyone on our team was successful and enjoyed their time in the field.

EOTech Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope.
EOTech Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope.

Dialing in on Alligators

The new EOTech Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope delivers outstanding performance and durability.


The new EOTech Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope delivers first focal plane (FFP) advantages and 1-10X power versatility — its reticles making full use of this scope’s advanced design. Its wide magnification range and rapid zooming balance shooting speed with precision. When combined with a choice of three modern reticles, the Vudu 1-10x28mm precision riflescope is a clear choice for close- to medium-range targets. 

The SR-4 reticle uses MOA-based subtension marks for ranging, holdover and windage corrections at higher powers and the Speed Ring with a center red aiming dot for rapid shots at lower power settings. The SR-5 is an MRAD graduated Christmas-tree style reticle for more precise windage and elevation holds. The LE-5 is similar to the SR-5 but features crosshairs inside the Speed Ring rather than a single dot. On the left side of the scope, a push-button reticle illumination system provides intuitive controls; one button for on/off and the others to control brightness settings. 

The dramatic 1-10X magnification range truly sets this optic apart. At 1X, its wide field of view, generous eye relief and signature EOTech Speed Ring combine for enhanced situational awareness and rapid shot transitions. At the other end of the spectrum, its 10X magnification and detailed reticle allow precise holdover shots at extended ranges. 

The scope’s illuminated, glass-etched reticle and first focal plane design allows for distance estimation at any magnification and lighting condition. At high power, the reticle is an optical tape measure for estimating distance and precisely aiming holdover shots; at low magnification, the eye focuses on the bold, illuminated EOTech Speed Ring for snapshots and quick follow-ups. Designed to be simple and intuitive, shooters will understand the versatility of this system with one look through the 1-10x28mm scope. — Derrick Nawrockie


Gator/Turkey Gear

Rifle — Benelli Lupo .270 Win./EOTech Vudu 1-10x28mm riflescope 

Shotgun — Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey/EOTech EFLX mini-reflex sight 

Apparel — Nomad Killing Time turkey vest and Nomad Pursuit turkey apparel


If You Want to Go

Outfitter:                     Osceola Outdoors


Guide & Owner:         Mike Tussey/




Location:                     South-central Florida near the banks of Lake Okeechobee


Hunts offered:             Alligator, ducks, wild hogs and turkeys


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