For someone who has never had the pleasure of filling an alligator tag, much less drawing one, the 2020 alligator season is going to be a hard one for me to beat.
I have been applying for gator tags for five to six years now, and this year I wagered it all. I was going to bag an alligator.
When the email came through my dad, Mark, and I were working on our farm. As I read it and started jumping around like a kid in a candy store dad looked at me like I was crazy. All I could get out of my mouth was, “I got a tag.” The email confirmed I was in fact going to Zone 2 to get me an alligator … or so I thought.
Through the next few weeks I planned and researched to figure out how a first time gator hunter would accomplish tagging an alligator.
I decided to give my buddy Scott Hamrick a call. Scott and I had met earlier in the year when we went scalloping with mutual friends in Steinhatchee, Florida. While we were having a blast there, Scott and I got caught up in the topic of alligator hunting in Georgia and all of his experiences. I explained to him that I should draw a tag this year and needed to know the do’s and don’ts of this type of hunting I had no experience with.
As we were talking, he told me that I needed to apply for Zone 2 and, if I got drawn for, to give him a call and he would take me. So I did, and for the two weeks leading up to the opening weekend trip I proceeded to harass Scott with tons of phone calls and texts to make sure everything was perfectly in place and ready for the upcoming opener.
Aug. 14 rolled around and we were off to Mac’s Point Lodge and Marina on Lake Seminole. There, my dad and I meet up with Scott and Rick Johnson, our guide. We arrived around 4 p.m. on Friday and immediately unloaded all of our belongings so we could get in the boat and do some scouting before the sunset (thus marking the season’s start).
Harder than I thought
As we left out of the canal where the marina was located, I could hardly contain my excitement for this new adventure. We were seeing gators from the get-go, and I thought to myself, “Man this isn’t gonna take long.”
Boy was I wrong!
After scouting we went back to the marina to get some dinner and gear up for the hunt. After a great dinner, we threw all of the equipment in the boat and looking for that 10-footer-plus I had been dreaming about. We hunted all night long with a few missed opportunities and a newfound respect for this sport! We drug back into the lodge around 6 Saturday morning, just in time to find a pillow before the sun came up. We got about four to five hours of sleep and were back kicking at lunchtime.
On our way out I noticed a 7-to-8-footer just outside of the marina. I turned and looked at Scott, Rick and Dad, pointing at the gator telling them that he was gonna be my last resort if we struck out that night. We headed out turning south down the Flint to where it and the Chattahoochee come together. Down there we got into a group of two to three big gators that were experienced in the art of escape. After fooling with them for a couple of hours, with no luck, we headed back to Mac’s Point so we could grab some dinner and recoup a little before the evening hunt.
After dinner we all agreed we needed to get back on the water, so away we went with the hopes of being back with a punched tag and in bed by 10 p.m. Scott took us back south to where we had been fooling with the gators earlier that day. The wind had picked up, making it difficult to hunt that side of the lake, so we moved north just a bit to try to get out of the wind.
Soon we hooked up on what looked to be a great gator. I eagerly passed the rod off to my dad because I was so adamant on sticking one with my bow rig. As we were working the gator he somehow pulled a Houdini and found his way off the hook. We chased him until he led us into a stump field Scott and Rick said would be virtually impossible to drag him out of.
Staring down defeat
By now, it was 2 a.m. and we were still chopping away with no luck. Big gators know how to hide. We had a few more missed shots and one or two breakoffs and before we knew it the sun started to show itself in from behind the trees.
I was looking defeat in the eye as I turned from the front of the boat and told Scott to take it on home. I remained on the front of the boat with my bow in hand with hopes of catching that 7-footer scooting through the canal. As we crept into the canal, I could see Mac’s up ahead. We were five minutes away from defeat. I’m still on the front of the boat. Dad said later I looked like Captain Morgan waiting to catch a glimpse of him.
We had just come to the “no wake” sign when I looked to my right and saw this odd-looking spot on the bank. It was a gator! This was not any ordinary gator though; this thing was HUGE!, the biggest alligator I had seen so far. Scott immediately shut off the boat when he heard me scream “Gator” just in time for him and Rick to spot him as he rolled into the water.
Everyone sprang into action. I aborted the bow idea when I realized how big this gator was and grabbed a rod. As we waited for bubbles or for him to resurface, one of us spoke up and the alligator blew out from under us, pushing our boat out into the middle of the canal! He was right up under us!
A dinosaur of a gator
In the 20 minutes to follow we were freaking out about how big this gator was. In the midst, a small fishing club or tournament let out of the marina. Seven to eight boats came screaming out of the marina. I thought all hope was lost, but to my surprise he resurfaced just 20 yards in front of us as the wake settled from the boats that had just let out.
I let that Penn reel sing and Rick threw in right behind me. I hooked up! We were hooked up on this dinosaur of an alligator. He took off back into the canal back towards the marina. It was all I could do holding that rod and keep from being pulled in.
I had the gator hooked up for about 5 minutes, and as we are trying to position over the top of him, he takes off and pulls the hook, leaving a huge trail of bubbles and quickly resurfaces.
Rick quickly throws on him and hits his mark and makes sure the hook was set. We quickly regain ground on this gator and within 20 minutes we were able to put a reassuring hand line in him. As we are fighting him and rejoicing in having a solid placed hand line, this gator surfaces right beside the boat, sending me into a whole lot of emotions I still can’t explain.
This alligator was way bigger than what I had thought. Scott quickly put another hand line on him while we had the chance and he quickly reached back for the .357 Magnum, handing it to me. I was so shaken up, I felt like Barney Fife wielding that gun. They had wrestled the gator back up a few seconds later and Scott holler “SHOOT ’IM”, so I let her eat … and missed my mark.
Like I said, Barney Fife.
The gator blew up and was ticked at this point that .357 had just glanced off of this thing’s skull. Quickly we regroup and get him back to the surface and this time I am able to place a shot this time right on point! My gator was dead right there!
The emotions that came out from all of us at that point was nothing to discount. We were high-fiving and hugging and catching our breath while trying to take pictures and call everyone to let them know what had just taken place.
We motored back into the Marina with the gator tied off the side of the boat where we were met by some of the folks that had either heard the shots or saw us fumbling around just outside of the end zone. When we got to the ramp we had to get Bob, the owner of Mac’s Point, to get his tractor to be able to get the behemoth out of the water. Thankfully he obliged and we were able to get the gator stretched out and put a borrowed tape on him. I was still pacing, trying to figure out whom to text pictures to next, and Scott and Bob hollered, “13 feet”! The gator we had just taken ended up being 13 feet, 1.5 inches long. All of this happened just mere minutes from us pulling the boat out of the water.
To say we were lucky and blessed is an understatement. Through 21⁄2 days of hunting, 4-5 hours of rest, countless gators being passed on, missed, broken off, or lost, we had just gotten it done in the last five minutes of our hunt all because I was waiting on that “last resort” 7-footer.
Instead I punched my long-awaited tag on a 13-foot, 1.5-inch monster!
I can’t thank my friends Scott Hamrick and Rick Johnson for their boat, guidance, and help along with my dad, Mark Cole. Without y’all, we would just have had another one of those fishing stories about the big one that got away.
I also want to thank Bob, Denisa McDaniel and everyone else at Mac’s Point Lodge and Marina for great food, lodging and accommodations.