Updated: Jul 30
Gator Hunting Isn't Just for the Guys
by Captain Phil Walters of GatorGuides.com The South's Most Experienced Professional Gator Guide
Gator hunting is perceived by many as a manly man’s sport. Nerves of steel, a strong constitution, and quick decisions against a huge beast that has the ability to eat you while you’re in the swamp after sundown are all part of gator hunting. However; this may not be the entire story or as in the real world, the reality may not quite match the perception. Since the inception of modern “fair chase” public access gator hunting about 25 years ago, there has been a smaller but no less active ingredient, the ladies of the sport.
Most of the many state programs that offer public gator hunting, the recipients of tags are selected by lottery drawing as you must gain the luck of the draw if you are to win a tag for the opportunity to hunt a gator. Often, to increase the odds of drawing a tag, potential gator hunters toss everyone they thought would get in the boat with them into the draw. This often included wives, girlfriends, mothers, mistresses, co-workers and the like. The end result is that a sizeable number of gator permit holders each season are women. (In Florida, 10-15% of permit holders are women) In the early days, many of these women were content to go on the adventure and watch the guys do their thing. Soon, many of the ladies decided that watching wasn’t enough. Since they had seen it done or heard of other ladies going on the hunt, since they held the permit, many jumped from observers to huntress.
Big Gator Defeated by Pink Harpoon Lauren Brown, a registered nurse on Florida’s east coast, used to enjoy airboating, hunting & fishing with her former husband. Having removed herself from all the above mentioned activities for a period of time, she jumped at the chance for some gator hunting. With the formation of the first alligator hunting tournament, Lauren was game for both the hunting and the competition of the tournament.
Lauren’s second gator (you have two tags on a Florida permit) was a nice 10’ long specimen that she harpooned after sunrise late in the season. This hunt was filmed by Brighthouse Networks Bodreaux Outdoors and provided for some exciting footage as Lauren boated the gator & the creature reciprocates by biting all it came into contact with, including her nearly new pink harpoon pole, a tool she thoroughly enjoyed putting to use.
The first gator she harvested two weeks earlier with her then “new” tool. This hunt was nearly caught on tape as FOX News had agreed to cover Lauren’s hunt but cancelled at the last moment. Too bad as this hunt was worthy of the attention. After a few hours of hunting, we headed into my favorite cove on Lake Griffin. As we were working a small gator, my light shined a large set of eyes about 150 yards away. “Lauren, there’s a big boy on the tree line. Dis-engage from the one you’re playing with & let’s head over there,” I said. “I’m ready, so lets go,” she replied.
We headed over towards the eyes. As we neared the spot where the gator was, he submerged but luckily for us (inversely unlucky for the gator) he was in shallow water and he left a huge wake as he traveled in an attempt to escape his fate. I put the boat behind the trail and Lauren at the bow, picked up the trail & threw her pink “Lady Gatorstick” at her selected target. With a thud, the harpoon hit & the excitement was on. After a brief fight, we tired the gator, taped his mouth shut then myself, Lauren & Bob Palumbo fought to drag him onboard so we could send him to gator heaven with the knife. Once dispatched, we all gasped at how large this gator was. Since Lauren was in the Gator Tournament, we had the gator officially measured at nearly 12’6”, a size good enough for her to beat out over 100 other sportsmen & placed second in the tournament, much to the dismay of the macho dudes!
Since she enjoyed the hunt so much, Lauren had a shoulder mount commissioned to hang on her wall and also had many belts & boots made from gator #2, as the 10’gator hide was better suited for such products than the ultra uber one.
Pair O’ Gators Dragged from Okeechobee Stephanie was an accomplished offshore big game fisherman with the credentials to supervise IGAF tournaments. She was looking for a challenge so she decided to try gator hunting. During her first season she hunted Okeechobee and did fair with a couple of 7’class gators. She had also drawn tags for an STA (Stormwater Treatment Area) near Belle Glade where she enjoyed the ride around the area in the “gator assault” truck but pretty much had turned the tags over to me to be filled. It was a good night of hunting as we harvested 5 gators between 7’ & 9’. Not bad for a first season.
The next year Stephanie wished to be the complete huntress and that she was. Back on Okeechobee South at dust we headed out towards a nearby dynamite hole. As we entered it, a nice 8’ gator came out of the weeds & ignorantly cruised the open water allowing us to ease up behind it. Once within range Stephanie threw the pole but landed a little left. With a splash, the gator dove and Steff quickly regained the GatorStick & readied for another shot. The silly gator popped up about 50’ ahead of us and with a little “gator talk” to keep him interested, we closed the gap. Once again within range, Steff tossed the pole and connected with the rear end. The line ran from the bucket and Steff started working it. Soon, we had the gator tired, taped, spine severed and tagged. On to the second tag………... We departed the pond and headed East down the ditch to the next dynamite hole. As we shined the area, a nice set of red eyes glowed from a big rock jutting out of the water on the east side of the open water. I kicked Steff & bobbed the light with her acknowledging the target. We decelerated as we neared the rock and got a good look at the target. It was a trophy class gator in the 10’range! As we were checking out the gator, he was deciding he was no longer going to expose himself and decided to evacuate. As we approached closer, the gator bolted from the rock as we were nearly in range. Steff instinctively reacted and let fly the GatorStick harpoon at the falling gator. Luck was with the stick as it stuck in the gator’s flank just as he hit the water, accompanied by a huge splash! Out of the bucket ran the line followed with a thud as the buoy bounced out of the airboat onto the water.
After a short fight, Steff had the gator under control. We quickly taped him, pulled him into the boat and gave him the knife! Steff now had her tags filled with two nice gators and it wasn’t even 10:30 yet. She called her neighbor, who is a pathologist (experienced with a blade) and informed her they were going to be cleaning an 8’ & 10’ gator the next morning.
“Evan” & “Chris” to Become a Pair of Boots! After her first airboat ride with her new friend for the summer, Margaux, an exchange student from France, Rachel Bruce really liked the airboat and wished to experience a more of the activities to be enjoyed on the water. Being the ripe old age of 15, she had embraced fishing and was now ready for a bigger challenge. Since I had a few extra tags for Lake Blue Cypress, the lake we had rode with Margaux; I told her I would be happy to take her, her best friend Cheyenne and mom Terrie on a gator hunt late in the season. October rolled around as excitement grew for the hunt. The day arrived and all was ready. I hitched up the airboat & drove to Terrie’s to pick up my enthusiastic passengers. We headed East on Hwy 60 stopping at River Ranch in Lake Wales to catch the weekend Rodeo there. After flirting with the cowboys at the Rodeo, we loaded up & continued to the Lake. It was fairly windy with a 15-20 knot wind whipping up the lake and sticking bugs in everyone’s hair. We bounced around the whitecaps a bit with spray occasionally coming over the bow & giving Rachel a refreshing douse of cold lake water. Once we arrived on the windward side of the lake the water calmed down to almost glass, perfect for hunting. We worked the back treeline and saw a few eyes that upon close inspection, was not what we really were after. With a run around the lake, the busting of many spider webs hanging between the trees along with the “thump” of hitting a few submerged logs, the girls (Rachel, Cheyenne & Terrie) were all in good spirits and ready to get something in the boat. Since all we had spotted were 6-7’ gators, I advised Rachel to start throwing at them.
As we started lap two around the lake, we worked one gator in a small slue. Rachel readied the GatorStick and threw. Must have been a warm up as it went left, missing the target. After retrieval of the harpoon and a few more “warm ups” to both the left & right at the same gator, our intended target grew tired of the game & departed the area. Soon, we spotted a set of eyes in the nearby treeline and headed towards them. After busting a few spider webs between trees our target became clear. Rachel let loose with the harpoon as the gator scurried along side the boat while attempting to escape to deep water and hit it. With the chisel point dart doing it’s job, out ripped the line accompanied by an excited teenage “giggle-squeal” of success from both Rachel and Cheyenne!
As Rachel worked the gator with Cheyenne at her side, I informed her we usually named the gator before we harvested it. With very little discussion she decided to name the gator “Evan” after a former beau. Cheyenne concurred this was a suitable name for a scaly, cold blooded lizard that was bound to become a pair of boots. After thoroughly whipping the gator tired and thoroughly enjoying the task of doing so, we gaffed “Evan” and Rachel quickly taped his strong jaws shut. Next, I instructed her how to humanely & safely dispatch her gator with the knife & she did so while she sat on his back while Cheyenne stood on his slithering tail, all while Mom Terrie was observing with reservations while up high in the airboat’s back seat.
After Rachel tagged her 7’ brute, I asked, “How did you ladies like that?” “That was a lot of fun,” they both replied in unison. It was so much fun that Cheyenne decided we should go again next season and she should be doing the hunting. “Humm,” I thought. She must have a few favorite “formers” she wants to name a gator after……Guess it’s not that hard to get today’s youth out hunting if you apply the correct motivation?
After tagging the first catch, we headed in as the night was getting late. We returned to the lake a week later with the same crew to fill the second tag and fairly much had a replay of the first hunt except the “guest of honor” this time was “Chris.” Boys, let me offer a word of advice. If you jilt Taylor Swift she’ll write a not so flattering song about you. If you jilt Rachel or Cheyenne, the repercussions may be much less flattering. Beware! Gator to be Painted Noted Florida Landscape & Wildlife artist Dorene Butler has spent a modest amount of time in the great outdoors but had never been on a gator hunt. After a short airboat ride on the Withlacoochie River (sound familiar?) last June, she gave some thought to a gator hunt. Since I had a few extra tags that might not be be filled, I called Dorene in early October and invited her and her Dad, renowned Florida Highwayman artist Robert Butler out to assist me. Dorene accepted the invite but informed Dad was busy so she wanted to invite her sister Aletha. Another lipstick and nail polish gator hunt I thought with ARTISTS! What did I get myself into?
The sun was ending it’s day’s labor of warming & lighting the earth as we staked out the SE corner of lake Marion, hoping we could ambush a nice gator as he cruised the lake. As we enjoyed the sinking sun, we spied a couple of gators not worthy of our attention making their rounds. As we waited, I took the time to review with Dorene & Aletha what to expect when we did jump a gator. If we jump one before sunset, I would attempt to hook it and hand the pole to Aletha, who was sitting in the hotseat up front. She was then to fight it until we could harpoon it. If we could not jump one before sundown, I explained how we would seek targets of opportunity in darkness and coached my huntress on the proper handling of the harpoon & how to throw it. This was an enjoyable time for all as the last rays of warmth disappeared below the horizon, no gators were spotted and we conversed about many topics while the bugs replaced the light.
With darkness at hand, we ran the lake once and only spotted a couple of 4-5’ gators and some kind of cat. (looked like a panther to me) Dorene was taking in the sights & making mental notes from her tall perch in the back seat of the airboat, on the features surrounding the lake, no doubt for future artwork while Aeltha shielded the lions share of the now swarming bugs from splattering on both myself and on Dorene. Team player I thought as we ran through the clouds of bugs that Aletha was now wearing like a coat. Much to my surprise, neither sister complained of this irritant of the environment; however she did continue to faithfully stay focused on my narrow bead of light illuminating the thick bugs & the weed line beyond, hopefully concealing our prey.
On the second pass around the big lake, much to our pleasure, the bugs began to retire. We shined a set of eyes out in the lake & made our approach. As we neared the area, we caught a clue and responded with a hook. Soon, we had a bent & active rod rhythmatically bobbing to the thrusts of a large & strong beast. Aletha bravely fought for a bit then readied herself for an opportunity with her pink “Lady GatorStick” harpoon, otherwise known as the “purse snatcher of the swamp.” As her target neared, she steadied herself & threw a worthy shot only to have the sharp stainless dart repulsed by the gator’s thick armor. With a splash, the creature did a short run then repositioned itself for another harpoon shot. Aletha again took aim & let loose with her weapon, this time it really irritated the gator causing him to explode and break the only secure line we had on him. With a sinking feeling, we regained our composure after missing this 11’-12’ trophy class gator and proceeded.
As Dorene continued to be the perfect sport by enjoying the show & encouraging her sister, we again struck out searching for a target. After a bumpy introduction to a sandbar after raising the light skyward on a “gator run” and bumbling over the dry spot, we turned our attention to another set of eyes near the bar. While this was not as desirable a target as the one that got away, it was of the size that had a high quality hide, very suitable for a purse. With that comment, Aletha readied the harpoon and hit her target. “Great,” I said as Dorene began to exhibit a little excitement. “This will be an easy gator to clean, posse a nice hide and have some very tender meat on him,” I explained to Aletha as her eyes beamed with a sense of accomplishment. After she wore the poor new purse, er I mean gator down, we taped his jaws then she dispatched & tagged the creature, posed for a picture, then dropped the lizard down into the boat. With the hour now well after midnight and the weather working from chilly to cold, we decided to call it a night & headed back to the landing. “Great night on the water,” they both said at the dock.
After partisapating in many youth events by demonstrating alligator hunting equipment & techniques and doing a number of these events with Girl Scouts, I have no doubt what so ever that the future of gator hunting will involve a new generation of outdoor ladies doing their own “shopping in the swamp.”
About the Author: Captain Phil Walters is owner of GatorGuides.com and produces RatWorks Gator Hunt Equipment. He has hunted gators professionally under fair chase principals across the South for two decades, has harvested thousands of gators while safely guiding hundreds of clients to their trophies. At one time, his clients possessed 7 of the top 10 alligators in the Safari Club International (SCI) record book. For 2008, Team RatWorks placed 2nd, 4th and 5th in the Central Florida Trophy Hunts “Big Gator Shootout” and harvested the Georgia state record of 13-7. In 2007, GatorGuides.com was presented the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance “Defender of the Heritage” award for hunting heritage education. Recently, Governor Charlie Crist appoint him to Florida’s Boating Advisory Council. In 2009, he guided for the largest gator harvested in Georgia at 13-51/2”.