DUNNELLON — Alan Abele describes himself as a fairly sound sleeper. So when he was startled by thumping sounds coming from near the back door of his home about 4 a.m. Tuesday, he knew something wasn't right.
After grabbing a flashlight and his .357-caliber Magnum pistol, the 68-year-old Abele crept quietly outside and shouted to the would-be intruder that he had a gun. But the creature crawling on his deck in the moonlight was the last thing he expected to see.
The same could probably be said of the 200-pound, 6-foot alligator that suddenly sprang toward Abele from the shadows.
The next few moments happened in a heart-pounding flash, Abele recalled Wednesday.
"I was crouched down and looking around when he hit me hard enough to knock me into a planter," he said. "The next thing I knew he coming at me with his jaws open, so I pulled the trigger with the gun barrel about 3 inches from the side of his head."
Once safely inside his screened patio, Abele fired one more shot at the reptile "just to make sure."
While Abele suffered only a minor bruise to his arm, the attack could have been much worse, he said.
"It was totally insane," he said. "He wasn't afraid of anything."
Afterward, Abele called the Marion County Sheriff's Office, which sent the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to investigate. Wildlife commission officials hauled away the dead gator.
Commission spokesman Gary Morse said that although alligators are a federally protected species and are managed by state wildlife regulations, it was determined that Abele's actions were appropriate, considering the circumstances.
"It was a surprising situation to say the least," Morse said. "Mr. Abele clearly had no other choice."
Morse said that while extremely rare, alligator attacks on humans are more likely if the reptile feels it's in danger.
A winter resident who spends his summers in northern Ohio, Abele, whose home is in the Rio Vista subdivision, lives only about 1,000 feet from the Rainbow River. In 20 years, he said, he had never seen an alligator in his yard until the Tuesday morning incident.
An avid hunter and wildlife enthusiast, he said that while he regretted having to kill his attacker, he was glad he had his gun with him.
"It was one of those times where you could say that 'stand your ground' really applied," he said.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.