I headed out in early July to meet up with Ralph and Vicki, along with the office guys and a bunch of the Posse members, to spend some time training, filming, etc. When I found out our destination was Osceola Outfitters in Florida, that little buzzer thingy went off in my head. That “buzzer” was reminding me that an alligator hunt was something on my bucket list! After a few phone calls and some planning, a gator hunt was in the works if time allowed.
I’m not a huge fan of flying out of O’hare…and when I found out that Rockford had a direct flight…it was a no brainer. With their limited number of flights to Orlando, my options were also limited as far as travel dates go. The only departure date available would put me in Florida a day ahead of most...but this actually worked out for the best. While taking a buggy ride through the swamps the first afternoon in camp, Hoppy asked if I wanted to chase gators in the morning (instead of trying to squeeze it in on the last day). I think I gave him my answer before he was even done asking the question!!!!
Very early the next morning, five of us jumped in the truck and headed out for what would end up being one of the most exciting mornings of hunting ever. The plan was to set up along canals that ran through the property where we would use young gator calls in an attempt to call one in. Hoppy and Freddie would set up with me while Mike (guide) and Jess (Posse/camera) would set up away from us a bit and do all of the calling.
The plan that morning was to shoot a management gator (9’ or less) While driving along the first canal we came to, a decent gator was spotted and the stalk was on. The three of us set where there was an opening in the brush while Mike and Jess set up another 40 yards to our right. The plan was to ambush a gator as he headed towards the sounds of the calls….Freddie filming me and Jess getting a second angle from a distance.
It wasn’t long into the first calling sequence when I saw Jess motion that a gator was coming…then another…and another…and another. In no time at all we had 4 gators within 60 yards of me, but all were “trophy” size.
After getting some great footage, we packed up and headed out to find me a management gator. About ten minutes into our drive, Mike spotted a DINOSAUR sunning himself in the tall grass. He was definitely a TROPHY gator but we decided to see if we could call him in to get some footage. We set up well past where we saw him, and even never came to the calls, two other “trophy” gators made an appearance. Freddie filmed them for a bit and then we headed back to the truck.
Once back at the truck, Mike quickly spotted another 10’+ gator in the canal on the opposite side of the road. To put this into deer terms….I was looking for a cull buck but was surrounded by BOONERS!!!!
Back in the truck, I gave Hoppy a look and he knew exactly what I was thinking. After a short discussion, along with some quick math in my head….my management hunt turned into a “trophy” hunt. (Not only was I hoping to shoot my first gator….I had plans on doing a life-size mount for my man-cave) So, I let the rest of the guys look for alligators while I tried to figure out where and how I could fit a trophy gator mount in the basement.
As we approached the end of this particular section of road, Hoppy suggested we get out set up because there was deeper water just ahead. He said that big gators like the deeper water and there was a good chance of calling one in. Hoppy, Freddy, and I set up about 100 yards from the deeper pool while Mike and Jess set up about 130 yards away.
Shortly after Mike started calling I spotted something in the distance that looked out of place. I was looking at something “shiny” through a small opening in the branches between us and the deeper water. Hoppy quickly identified the object as a gator sunning his head on the opposite bank…..and he added, “IT’S A WHOPPER”.
Now, with a resting pulse of about 200, I had to hope this gator would respond to the calls. As the minutes ticked by (OK…I’m sure they were seconds) I finally heard Jess whisper to us that “the gator is back in the water”….followed by “he is swimming away”….followed by “he is turning around”….and finally “he is coming”.
I was hunting with a TC Pro Hunter .204 and knew that things were about to get real exciting. Hoppy had mentioned many times that the shot had to be in the eye….in the eye….in the eye. I knew to make this shot I was gonna’ have to be a lot less excited than I was at the present time. Just as I started to “calm down a bit”, Hoppy whispered, “I see him…and he is coming fast…get ready!!!”
I dialed the scope back a bit and cocked the hammer back on the TC. Once I had the gator in my sights, Hoppy tried several times to stop him. Hoppy said the big ones always stop…but this one just kept coming. Fearing we would get busted, Hoppy gave me the green light to shoot. I took a deep breath and tried my best to keep the crosshairs on his left eye as he swam closer and closer to us.
Just before pulling the trigger I remembered Vicki telling me that if you hit ‘em good…they will wave to you. I didn’t quite understand what she meant until I squeezed the trigger. As the front half of the gator vanished underwater, the tail and right rear leg broke the surface. The rear leg was quivering! (AHHHHH, now I get it….waving)
We could still see the tail as Hoppy ran down and threw a line to hook the gator…..”ITS A WHOPPER…IT’S A WHOPPER” he shouted!!!
It took four of us to drag this guy onto the bank and then up the hill to the truck. At 10’-5”, and approx. 350 pounds…I’m still not sure how the folks on “that gator show” are able to toss around those “seven hundred pounders”
Hoppy and Mike commented that BIG gators never keep coming like that…and they also mentioned that this 10 footer had a 11+ footer head on it. My wife says that about me all of the time!!! On top of that, my gator had scars on its back from being in another gator’s mouth!!!!! I’d like to see that gator!!!!
With another item checked off the bucket list….it was time to chase some hogs!!!!
Check out Osceola Outfitters in Florida if you want to have a great adventure!!!!