GATOR HUNT TIPS....
FROM THE SOUTH'S
PROFESSIONAL GATOR GUIDE
Quality * Service * Integrity
Capt. Phil Walters - 813-220-6854
Gator Hunting Across The South: A synopsis of State programs
Gator Hunting 101
Now that you’re draw to hunt gators, you may find information on hunting & equipment is scarce. In the next few pages I’ll give you a crash course on what equipment you need & why you need to increase your chances of success while decreasing your chance of injury.
About Gator Guides & Ratworks
We’ve been hunting gators since 1990, have harvested thousands of gators and guided hundreds of clients on safe hunts while filling 95% of our tags, with a 9' average over 1 night of hunting. At one time, our guides had 7 of the top 10 Safari Club International record book gators. If you do a Google search on Phil Walters & “gators” or “airboat,” you’ll see we’ve been around the block.
On the same Google search, you will also find a number of stories on how “Joe” hunted a gator, but little practical information on “what’s needed” and “how to” hunt gators. Pay attention!
All our equipment is hand made for heavy duty commercial use. It’s made to be practical, affordable, durable and above all, functional, RatWorks is found in use by nuisance trappers and guides across the South and in Australia for Crocodile hunting. (FYI: Crocs grow up to 20'.) Our equipment will put gators in the boat where other equipment will produce a miss.
What You Need & Why
1) Harpoon Pole- Driver, line, float, dart
2) Hands free headlight
4) Electrical tape
6) Sharp Knife
7) Optional: Fishing rod & snatch hooks, Bone Crusher harpoon pole
(see more detailed info below)
Because of the habitat, gator hunting is totally different from any other type of hunting. The key to harvesting a gator is locating him & attaching a restraining line. The best, anywhere method of attaching a workable restraining line is a HARPOON and should be considered MANDATORY for gators over 7'. While a bow rigged for fish works well in open water, they don’t function so great with a small line in vegetation, timber, brush or other obstructions. Remember; if you shaft a gator, you need to harvest him regardless of where he runs! With a harpoon rigged with the line through the pole, you may harpoon any size gator in any circumstance and be reasonably able to retrieve him. If you shaft a 8+ gator with your bow, you more than likely will have to harpoon him to gain control. Then again, if he’s only 6', the bow line will work.
A simple locating line, for open water use, is a casting rod & a snatch hook. A large hook is used to hook them on the bottom, a small hook to accurately cast over a swimming gator. For a large hook, 50-80lb mono line or Fireline works great. For casting distance, 20-50lb line is fine. Tip: Don’t try to set the hook, as 90% of the time the hook won’t penetrate the hide & a jerk will make him ballistic. ALWAYS keep the line snug on him.
Once hooked, the trick is to tire him to where you can HARPOON him, attaching a large restraining line. If he’s on the bottom, a harpoon made of a section of galvanized 3/4" pipe (Bone Crusher pole) will nail him. If pulled boat side, a jab pole or a throw pole will work. NOTE: hit him in a soft spot such as the neck, flank or large part of the tail. Try to avoid the back armor and NEVER hit one in the head!
Ratworks Harpoons & kits are made to give good penetration with the ability to THROW the pole up to 30' for extra range. The drivers are 3-1/2" because longer makes them bend easier and makes dart retrievable difficult. The pipe mount is added to give weight to provide inertia to puncture the hide. The Ratworks Double Bite darts are made to penetrate and lock with MINIMUM effort, as longer darts offer no holding advantage but take more energy to bury below the dovetail. Believe me, we have experimented with many sizes and have concluded the Double Bite to be the most effective. Competitors darts work, however; marginal shots with a RatWorks dart have a greater chance of sticking because it takes less energy to bury. NOTE: you must put as much power as possible in your throw/jab. If you hit soft neck or flank, little energy is needed. If you hit back armor, much more energy is needed to drive the dart BETWEEN the scoots to bury. When boat side, DO NOT try to push the dart in. Won’t work. Either throw the pole or give a firm, hard jab.
While working a gator in range of harpoon or bow, a HANDS FREE HEADLAMP is recommended. Most of your hunting will be at night as the gators are more active after dark. If you’re very lucky, you may harvest one at sunset or sunrise. More than likely you’ll be out after dark. While you may get by without a hands free light, your harvest will be much more successful when you have Two Hands on equipment and the light is ALWAYS where you’re looking. Tip: Only ONE person on board should be working a light. Once a gator is spotted, hand signals should be used to point the direction of the gator. Quiet on approach!
While not required, it’s a good idea to carry a bangstick. Every year we have to kill gators under trees, tangled in bushes or wrapped in vegetation. Additionally, bangsticks provide a safe, quick & humane method to dispatch a gator. CAUTION: Only use your bangstick underwater and do not load until the gator is COMPLETELY TIRED! NEVER have a loaded stick in your vessel.
We recommend a bangstick over a handgun because most vessels don’t offer a stable platform to shoot, safety of your fellow hunters as when a gator is shot above water, bone & lead can be sprayed in all directions (watch your eyes) and the sound can be intense, not to mention any nearby homes at night. Many times a large gator will bite or jar a boat. Will you be stable with your finger on the trigger and your buddy next to you? A bangstick is a very good idea.
You now have a large, very tired gator boat side that’s acting calm. (He’s calm but can still bite & may have a few bursts of energy left in him. BE CAREFUL!) You load your bangstick, take aim, drop the gator under at least 8" of water & hit him HARD with the bangstick just behind the back of the head. Tip: NEVER hit them on the top of the head or above water as this can spray bone & lead! It’s a good shot, you get blood and the gator goes limp. Next, take your gaff and hook him under the front tip of the bottom jaw. (Never fight a gator with a gaff. Pull it off him. If he’s still fighting, bang him again) Pin him EYEBALLS TO THE GUNNEL, with the belly facing away from you and his mouth securely shut, you may now CAREFULLY tape his mouth firmly shut. Tip: Always watch the gator for movement and watch the gaff! I do 4-5 firm wraps of black electrical tape. (much easier to use than duct tape and works well on wet objects).
With his mouth tightly taped, pull him onboard and sever his spine with a Buck knife just behind the bump of the head in the soft spot of the neck. Gently work your blade through the hide & meat down to the bone. Use the knife tip to find the gap of the vertebrae. Once located, drive the knife into the vertebrae using the palm of your hand (DON”T SLIP!) until you have BOTH good blood flow AND a quick nervous reflex from the gator. With the spine severed, he’s dead & won’t return to life. Next, place your state or CITIES tag 6" from the end of the tail, snapping the tag over the BOTTOM of the tail. Tip: It’s a good idea while both severing the spine & cutting for the tag to either stand on the gator or tail or place a knee onto them to keep them subdued and give you leverage. Carry a squeeze bottle of a little soap, water & bleach to rinse with after you handle a gator. They have very nasty bacteria on them. Immediately treat any cut or scratch with an anti-bacteria agent.
The fishing rod & snatch hook will only work in open water. A hooked gator may run 10 yards or 100+ yards, so look around before you toss a hook and use judgment. For areas that’s open water, the hook makes a great locating devise to get a harpoon into them.
The Bone Crusher (10' of 3/4" galvanized pipe) harpoon pole works great for gators too big to surface as you can drop the pole down onto them. They work great for boat side gators as they will punch just about any part of the gator. The downside is you can’t throw a pipe & they sink, so secure the pole to your vessel.
This is a listing of the BASIC equipment need to harvest a few gators. While you can make this as complicated as you like, this is all the specialized equipment we carry for either charter hunts or commercial harvest. (95% of our clients harvest two gators with a 9' average in one night using this equipment) With the harvest success rate only 33% in Georgia, with proper preparation and correct equipment, your chances of success are greatly improved.
While I can’t cover hunting technique in this short letter, I did cover the basic needs of gator hunting. On the technique side, you’ll just have to spend some time on the water & learn the gator’s habits.
Gator hunting is safe. The boating at night, equipment, reflexes of your fellow hunters and areas you hunt may not be. Pay attention at all times. Watch your lines & equipment. Watch the waterway for logs, rocks & obstructions. Have all your safety equipment onboard & wear your PFD! When the action happens, it happens in a FLASH!
Know the area you’re going to hunt. Be courteous to waterfront home owners late at night. (Lights, shots)
Become familiar with your equipment before the hunt. Practice throwing your harpoon pole. Know how you’ll rig your vessel and watch everyone onboard while on the water. Stay calm & have a plan.
For scouting, you may want to ask around at bait shops, fish camps, feed stores, ect as many local folks are only too happy to talk hunting and have a large gator removed from their pond or lake. Always wash your gator with a soap/bleach mix to kill bacteria before you skin them.
If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 813-968-6154. I’ll help with time permitting. Come September 1 to October 8, I’m hunting gators all night.............so call before season if you can!
Capt. Phil Walters
Never use your pole as a lever. They snap and you’re S.O.L.!
Try to dart the gator in the soft spot just behind the head, Then again, A weak shot is better than no shot!
If the gator is coming or looking at you, let him pass, then dart him. When he’s looking at you, your dart will bounce off his head or slide from his back.
Practice throwing your pole before the season. A good throwing arm is the difference between filling tags and burning time.
Keep a second dart pole handy. You might miss the first shot. With a second pole, you may get a second shot. Also, poles break and get lost, so $99 is cheap insurance, compared to your investment.
BANG STICK TIPS
You can never be too careful with them. This is the most dangerous part of the harvest!
Never fire above the water! It will damage your eardrums and could send bone fragments fling! Let him tire, bring him up, get a good look at his lay out, pick your spot behind the head, drop him down under 8" of water. When you hit him, HIT HIM HARD as he’s going down!
Never load a bang stick until you are ready to use it. Once loaded, always keep it pointed over the side. If you don’t immediately fire it, unload it!
Never bang a big gator on the head. A .44 mag. won’t penetrate the top of a 10' gator, but will spray lead & bone.
Never bring your gator into the boat until he’s been taped. It’s much easier to sever the spine on a big boy while he’s over the gunnel.
Do this only after he’s taped!
Remington brass shells seem to work the best in bangsticks. Keep a screw driver handy in case a shell lodges in the barrel.
Check Screws & nuts after each firing!
Conserve light and battery power. If not, you may not have it when you need it.
Have only one person use the light, preferable the boat driver. The boat driver can only follow one light at a time.
Wear dark clothes. These don’t reflect light and help reduce glare.
Avoid having anything white on board. Try to black out whatever you can.
Tie the power cord of your spot light to the rigging to prevent user from pulling the power cord from the battery.
Use a 5 gallon bucket to keep your line & float in. This will help keep your boat organized and your lines ready to use. If it’s a white bucket, paint it black.
If you’re hunting near lots of vegetation, rig your pole with the dartline running through it. Drill a hole about 12" from the end, run the line through it, then tie a knot on the float side of the line. This will help tire the gator and may keep him from going far into a hole.
Do not stand on the dartline. Get ready and set well before you dart the gator or throw the pole. Assign a person to assist the darter. This person should check lines and footing of the darter. This way the darter may concentrate 100% on their target.
Boat skippers, give all aboard assignments, such as dart lines, light lines, general equipment or navigation. Everybody wants to help, but too many or wrong assignments makes for mistakes. Give everyone a roll of tape! Keep tabs on what everyone is doing! And on air boats, keep a close eye on all equipment and where people put things. If your crew has never been airboating before, take a few minutes and explain the boat & rules. No shifting weight, no cans or loose items on floor, no lines or poles near prop. Remember Murphy’s law!
If you bring a big gator into your boat, make sure he’s dead. Tie him down before you power up. A shifting gator may sink your boat.
Make sure the spine is severed. When you load him, put his head to the back of the boat and roll him onto his back. This will help bleed him and improves the meat. Also, do not allow gas, oil or bug spray to touch his hide. It can ruin it. Keep your boat clean.
Important: Should the newspaper or media contact you, be on your Sunday best behavior! Discuss this with your harvest team. The media will report what they hear & see, so tell them & show them the best possible side of our sport. If you pass on the media, please give them my name & number or call me with theirs.
Wash your hands with alcohol or soap after you handle a gator. They are full of nasties and should you get a good infection from a scratch, it could cost you lots of $$$$ in Dr. bills plus pain. Its worth the prevention.
Many of the harvest areas are remote and prone to theft. As a precaution, pull your vehicle’s coil wire and lock your trailer to your truck.
Keep your gators iced and covered. Avoid direct sunlight for any length of time. They spoil quickly! The value is in the meat, if your meat spoils, the gator is next to worthless. $20.00 for ice is a wise investment.
Don’t scrimp on sleep.
- Capt. Phil Walters
South's Most Experienced Professional Gator Guide
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