Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Eight feet of angry Florida alligator on the line

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — Standing knee-deep in muck, I struggled to shove our airboat back into the water.

"You can't push it," Dave Markett said. "You've got to rock it."

The veteran alligator guide wasn't happy. We had just missed a chance to snag a 10-footer, but my bumbling cost us not only a trophy gator, but it also left us aground on a floating tussock island with a violent thunderstorm closing in from the east.

"We don't have much time," Markett said. "We do not want to be out here when that thing hits."

As daylight faded and the first raindrops fell, I stopped thinking about gators and started worrying about lightning.

"Let's go …" Markett said, his patience running short.

Then, inch by inch, the airboat began to slide toward the water. Markett hit the throttle, and we raced back to the boat ramp as the clouds opened up.

"Am I fired?" I asked as we sought shelter in his truck.

Markett didn't answer. He just bit his lip and stared into the darkness.

Florida's oldest sport

More than 1 million alligators live in Florida's rivers and lakes. Every summer, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission awards roughly 6,000 permits through a lottery system to hunters who want to bag the state's signature reptile.

But killing a gator isn't as easy as the popular television series Swamp People makes it out to be.

"We can't use firearms or bait hooks in Florida," said Markett, who has been hunting alligator mississippiensis for more than a decade. "Alligator hunting is a different ball game down here."

Most gator hunters either "snatch" their prey with a fishing rod and oversized treble hook or shoot them with a crossbow or traditional bow and arrow.

Some use a pole spear or harpoon, which is how Florida's original inhabitants hunted alligators.

In the mid 1900s, the number of alligators in Florida began to plummet as years of unregulated hunting took its toll. The state shut the season down in 1962, and five years later, the federal government put alligators on the endangered species list.

But sound management helped the population rebound, and in 1988 the state reopened the public hunting season. Last year, state officials issued 6,296 permits (each one good for two gators), which translated into 7,729 legally harvested reptiles.

The $271.50 permits are issued for particular harvest areas. Some lakes are better than others, but Florida's largest lake is always a big producer.

Snatch or spear?

When we hit the lake about 20 minutes before sunset, Markett spotted a big gator cruising across a patch of open water. He tried to snag the beast but missed.

I followed up with a second cast, but all I managed to catch were some cattails, which led to our grounding and my banishment to the pickup truck.

"I'd really feel more comfortable with a harpoon," I told Markett after the storm had passed and we set out again.

As a youngster, while other boys were playing baseball, I was using my mother's steak knives to make spears to hunt saber- toothed tigers I was convinced still prowled the woods behind my suburban New Jersey home.

"When you see a gator, I want you to throw that thing as hard as you can," Markett instructed. "They have pretty tough skin."

Cruising along the shoreline, we scoured the darkness with headlamps, looking for the red reflection off alligator eyes. We passed several 4- or 5-footers, but I wanted a big one, at least 8 feet in length.

Standing on the bow of the airboat, we came upon a 6-foot gator.

"Throw, throw ..." Markett yelled.

"Too small," I said. "I want something a little bigger."

About 30 minutes later, we spotted an 8-foot alligator as it slid off the bank about 25 feet away. I didn't think. My primordial alter ego took control, and I heaved the spear and hit the living dinosaur in a soft spot between the head and shoulder.

"Now what do I do?" I asked.

Lucky shot

The chances of making a throw like that again were one in a million. The gator, unhappy with its predicament, tried to swim away, but the spearhead (attached to a rope) was imbedded beneath its thick hide, and foot by foot, I fought it back to the boat.

"Watch out. … It'll bite you," Markett said as the gator chomped down on the side of the boat. "Don't let it bite through the rope!"

The gator rolled several times, snapping at air, but eventually I got it close enough for Markett to pop it in the head with a bang stick (a pole with a .44-caliber Magnum cartridge embedded in the tip).

Then the guide quickly wrapped the gator's jaws with electrical tape, and together we hauled it into the boat.

"Nice shot with the spear," Markett said. Like a newbie dart player who scores a bull's-eye on the first throw, I dared not tell him that I could never repeat the feat.

"Let's get it on ice as quickly as we can," Markett said. "We don't want the meat to spoil.

"We will use every bit of this animal … meat, skin, teeth. Nothing will go to waste. That is the right thing to do."

. fast facts

If you go

Get educated: To learn more about alligator hunting in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/hunting. The season runs 11 weeks, from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers a no-cost, three-hour training and orientation program for first-time hunters. Permit holders are not required to go, but first-time participants are encouraged to attend.

Guide: Dave Markett, one of the Tampa Bay's most experienced charter captains, has been running alligator trips for 10 years. He operates Sport Fishing Guide Services out of Odessa and can be reached at (813) 927-3474 or at [email protected]

Processing: Tomalin's 8-footer was processed by Chad Wright of Gators R' Us in Lacoochee. "Every bit of this animal is put to some use," Wright said. "Nothing goes to waste."

By the numbers

• Longest gator on record in Florida measured 14 feet, 5/8 inches; Lake Monroe in Seminole County.

• Heaviest gator on record in Florida weighed 1,043 pounds (13 feet, 10 ½ inches); Orange Lake in Alachua County.

Source: FWC

Eight feet of angry Florida alligator on the line 10/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 9:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  2. Signs point to Jameis Winston dressing vs. Bills

    Sports

    TAMPA — The Bucs didn't sign another quarterback Wednesday, which would suggest they are confident that Jameis Winston can be active as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday at Buffalo if he doesn't start.

  3. FSU doesn't feel need for ongoing reminder of last year's beatdown at Louisville

    Sports

    Of course Florida State remembers what happened against Louisville last year. The 63-20 loss was one of the worst defeats in Seminoles history.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson looks back at the action from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Murray State, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
  4. Goodell: NFL not changing its national anthem policy

    Bucs

    NEW YORK — In the face of fan unrest and accusations from the president about the league being unpatriotic, the NFL is not changing its national anthem policy to require players to stand.

    NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a news conference, Wednesday in New York. [AP Photo/Julie Jacobson]
  5. NFL gives Tampa Bay final approval to host Super Bowl LV

    Blogs

    TAMPA – Start celebrating. Finally, it’s official. The biggest Super Bowl LV party will be held on the streets of Tampa Bay.

    NFL owners granted final approval today for Tampa Bay to host Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium.