White Oak Swamp, Camden County, Ga.
September 26, 2010
by Captain Phil Walters of GatorGuides.com The South's Most Experienced Professional Gator Guide
"Buddy, we're burning daylight! The tide is out & we need to roll, NOW!" I said to Buddy as he arrived at the landing. "Lets go then," he replied. The right answer I thought as he boarded my boat and I laid into the throttle. The 'Ole Lycoming 0540 angle-valve came alive with a growl and quickly jumped the aluminum hull onto a plane, sending a column of wind & water behind us as we skipped down the river.
It was overcast Sunday with a light dusting of precipitation as we departed the landing. Buddy Hall, an Atlanta resident, brought his two collage buddies with him, David Stidfole & Captain Harlan Trammell, who would be joining us on our adventure in a chase boat. Their plan was to film as much of the excitement as possible. David, from Jacksonville, Fl had arrived at White Oak from "just down the road." Harlan, a blue water billfish & shark fishing Captain from the Florida Keys had a much further "run" up the road to join the gang. Anticipation radiated from the team as viewed by the grins that were displayed by all. The weather we experienced increased in severity as we headed out of White Oak and into the Satilla River. Rain stung our faces as we traversed the widening river heading towards Cumberland Sound. As we rounded a bend into the bumpy, choppy Sound, we looked behind us to see if Harlan & David were there. We didn't see them so we decided to wait for them to catch up. Shortly, they arrived as daylight slipped away. "See anything?" Harlan asked. "We got a good look at a very big gator," I said "he blew out of the water exposing his huge head & back about 200 yards away, then disappeared into deep water with a mighty flip of his tail. I think that gator recognized us for what we wanted to do to him," I sighed.
While drifting in open water, we chatted and became acquainted, waiting for darkness to arrive. To the Southwest, off in the distance, a dark, dismal wall of water accompanied by the occasional flash of lightning was on the move. Observing the direction of the clouds overhead, Harland was of the opinion the deluge was on it's way to greet us and that the lighting would come with it as well. With the winds & drizzle increasing, the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance, we held a brief "council of survival," declared a lightning strike on a metal boat to be a bad thing and decided that a retreat to the I-95 Bridge was in order. The engines fired back up & off we went into the darkness.
David & Harlan were ahead of us. Since we weren't yet in a downpour, we shined the banks looking for a suitable "victim" for our harpoons to be introduced to. At the confluence of White Oak & the Satilla, we investigated our first set of glowing eyes up near the grass. Upon approach, the "victim" revealed itself to us in the form of a 6' gator. "Not what we're looking for Buddy," I said. I stomped the throttle & yanked the rudder to continue towards our rendezvous point while shinning both banks. Shortly, another set of eyes appeared then another. As we worked each set of "ruby reds" (I was surprised to see activity as the gators are not too fond of rain either) as they appeared to us. We happened upon a number of gators in the 5'-6' range, with a couple dropping down in the distance. "Did you see that one drop out there Buddy?" I asked. "Yes," he replied. "Most likely they are descent gators that don't want any part of us," I explained. Near where we sighted the "hoss," a set of eyes lit up the bank and then quickly bee lined to the open river before disappearing into the muddy water. "That big boy must know me from another hunt," I thought.
Finding shelter from the elements under the bridge, we again chatted, this time for over an hour. Harlan & David didn't see much on the ride in. We saw 10 gators including a clutch of about 30 hatchlings with mom standing guard in the middle of the pack. Other than that, nothing of interest was sighted. As we waited for the weather to clear, we shined the resident 5' gator under the bridge. "Buddy," I said, get a good look at that friendly 5' gator because if we can't find something more to our likening in the next few hours, that boy may become your trophy." "Hey, if that's the best we can do, that's just hunting," Buddy replied. "Yep," I quipped. "Big old trophy gators didn't get that way by being stupid, especially after being "educated" by Georgia's eight gator seasons. They know what we're here to do and as that big boy earlier showed us, they won't be easy to stick."
We had been watching the heavens as we talked. To the north, clear skies with a few stars began to twinkle before our eyes. Towards the Southeast, the storm ranged on the horizon, producing many brilliant flashes of God's wrath which reverberated throughout the heavens, at times illuminating the storm into an ominous orange glow. Luckily, the storm was far enough away that it did not affect our vicinity or safety. With clear weather and dead calm wind delivered to us, we again fired the engines to search for our prey. Shining the banks, we waved at the little gators we had previous passed, then approached the spot we had sighted the "hoss" earlier. Not home, darn. Passing the spot, we continued to work the banks. Luck would prevail as an orange red glow radiated from the far shore. We maneuvered the boat towards the source of the glow; placing Buddy into a favorable position should there be a target at the end of the light. As we drew closer, the beast's true size was realized. Smack went the creature's tail against the mud & brackish water as he realized we were almost on top of him. Out sailed a GatorStick harpoon in reply to his aggression and arrogance. With all this action unfolding in the blink of an eye, we steadied the boat and turned her back into the river. To our relief, the dartline buoy was out of the bucket and heading against the current. Buddy, in a tone reflecting slight bewilderment, asked "what is going on?" "See that buoy swimming against the tide? I think something very good just happened," I informed him. "I saw him & he looked real good," Buddy said. I nodded in full agreement. Buddy whipped out his cell phone as we chased the float and called for David & Harlan to head to us so they could video the start of the action.
With the arrival of the remainder of the team, Buddy & I went to work placing more lines onto our prey. Not knowing how secure the first chisel point dart was, I instructed Buddy to gingerly ease the dartline & float into the boat, while I work a special fishing rig with a large hook into position to bring the gator to the surface. After successfully hooking the harpoon pole (not our intended target) the gator did surface twice to vent disdain for our intrusion into his formally quiet evening. We continued to work the float & dartline to secure another line onto the gator as the creature was in deep, open & swiftly moving water, which greatly added to our woes. After much shuffling around the boat between myself & Buddy, dodging lines, cables & equipment, we managed to connect with a leg. With much grunting & groaning, the gator was pulled to the surface where Buddy drilled him with a BoneCrusher harpoon, a tool that almost guarantees a secure dart into the gator, regardless of the armor the gator sports in his defense.
With three strong, secure lines attached to the gator, our final act was commencing. We continued to tire the gator at the boat. After thrashing, rolling and some tail flipping, our "big green nasty" finally started to become agreeable to us. "Stay away from those jaws" Harlan commanded as he watched us work from a distance. "Harland, I know you're a Captain on your vessel but please leave the instructions to the Captain working the gator," I replied. "Mixed messages can cause problems," I added. Harlan acknowledged and to my relief, he made a noble attempt to keep his enthusiasm in check. After subduing and controlling our target, Buddy snapped to attention & wrapped the gators massive jaws with electrical tape, thus ending the beast's ability to cause us harm. Again, with much strain, sweat, grunting & groaning, the prey was hauled onto our boat. Once onboard, Buddy jumped upon it's back and quickly severed the big gator's spine, sending the beast on a one way trip to gator heaven. Next, the last link of the tail was sliced into which a Georgia Alligator harvest tag was inserted.
The ride back to the landing with our newfound "guest" was pleasant. The cool wind blowing in our faces refreshed our spirits and the occasional glow of more gators graced our light. Back at the landing, we docked & immediately drew a small crowd of hunters & fishermen. Good, I thought. We'll have plenty of help getting this 500lbs & 11’ of dead weight out of the boat! (Old gator guides know all the kids want to touch the gator. Share the moment, save your back & let them help load him!)
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”.