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Wiltz: Florida gators, but not the basketball version

In 44 years of column writing, I don't recall that I've ever touched on alligators. Today, that's about to change. Last September, while I was on my British Columbia moose hunt, Doug Koupal, a long-time hunting partner, had the opportunity to hun...

In 44 years of column writing, I don't recall that I've ever touched on alligators. Today, that's about to change.

Last September, while I was on my British Columbia moose hunt, Doug Koupal, a long-time hunting partner, had the opportunity to hunt Florida alligators. Doug, his son, John, and his son-in-law, Robert, flew to Orlando and then drove on to Sebring to hunt a 75-acre lake. The lake looked nothing like the swamp setting we see on History Channel's "Swamp People." It was surrounded by residences. I don't know if these lakeside folks swim or water ski on the lake, but I do know that their pets often became a meal.

Don't call and ask for the name of Doug's outfitter. I can't help you, as they hunted with friends of one of John's former Minnesota high school students. However, I did google "Florida Alligator Hunting," and found that numerous guide services are available. It also appeared that Louisiana could be a better choice as their regulations might be less complicated. At one time, Florida gators were protected, but today it's a well-managed season that has been around since 1988.

Doug told me that Florida has a 30-day alligator season, and that the lake they were on was allotted 10 gator tags. Doug felt that this quota was quite conservative as they saw at least 50 gators the night they hunted. One couldn't hunt until it was pitch dark, and firearms weren't permitted on the lake. There were no size restrictions, and they hunted the biggest gator they could find.

Doug's hunt was done from an airboat. The optimum hunting depth was about six feet of water, and the water was clear in spite of recent heavy rains. They used a spotlight, and they cruised around as the light was shined across the water. When an alligator was spotted, his/her eyes would light up like a coon's in the headlights. They drew a bead on the eyes, cut the engine, and quietly drifted to the reptile's location.

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Doug stood in the boat and manned an eight-foot harpoon that was attached to a buoy with rope. The size of a gator on the bottom was deceptive as what appeared to be a three-foot critter was more like six feet in length. When the boat was directly over a gator he wanted, Doug was to thrust his harpoon into the gator. At this same time, the spotlight was shined directly down on the gator by a crew member. It was no easy task.

Once an alligator was harpooned, it was off to the races as they were strong swimmers. To the gator's disadvantage, he was now towing a buoy around the lake. When they caught up to the gator, a stout line with a large attached treble hook was cast or tossed to the area of the gator until it was eventually snagged and retrieved. Now Doug traded his harpoon for a "shock stick," a device that was detonated on contact by a .410-gauge shot shell. The spine was the target, and this stunned the alligator.

The stunned gator was then pulled into the boat where his jaws were immediately taped shut. He was then dispatched with a knife.

Doug has a knack for getting the big one. I believe the bull elephant he killed on our 2014 safari was the biggest taken in the Caprivi that year. He also has one of the biggest warthogs ever killed in Namibia and I was with him that afternoon. Now, with a 10-foot, 7-inch gator, he had the second-largest gator killed in the area last fall.

What did Doug do with his alligator? The head and the hide were his. The edible meat, namely the tail, went to his guide friend. The meat brings $15 a pound. Doug's head mount just got home from the Florida taxidermist. Size wise, it resembles a five-gallon pail.

Doug told me that gator laws by state. Florida does not allow baited hooks, the method we observe when we watch the Louisiana hunters on "Swamp People." However, the Floridians have figured out how to get around it. A big piece of Styrofoam plastic is attached to a stout line and floated on the surface. Hooks are buried in the Styrofoam. Now one heaps a load of extremely rotten chicken onto the foam "platter," and then waits patiently for a big gator to engulf the whole thing.

I haven't eaten alligator, but I did eat crocodile in Africa. You guessed it. It was a lot like chicken.

Closer to home, walleye fishing has been good in the Pickstown boat basin. I'd tell you how to fish for them, but I've beaten that topic to death in the past.

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See you next week.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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