With the new nation-wide interest in swamp people, some of us bayou people are scratching our heads wondering how something so localized could have become the basis of the most-viewed show in the history of the History Channel.
That something is alligator hunting, and the location is southeast Louisiana. Having participated in my first alligator hunt back in 1994, I have been on the lookout for an “alligator lease” near my home ever since. Only problem is, these leases almost never come up for grabs; and if by chance one does, you can bet your alligator boots that many folks have been on the waiting list way longer than I.
At this point, though, I can’t even participate in the public wildlife management alligator tag lottery, because I am not yet an “experienced hunter”. The only way to gain that experience is to get someone with a lease to take me on as a licensed helper. Alas, nobody will take me on.
Due to the astounding popularity of the new History Channel TV series, Swamp People, everyone is trying to get in on the alligator-hunting action now. There’s no way anyone is giving up a lease, tags, or a helper’s position.
Sadly though, some of the most avid alligator hunters I know will never make it to the television show, because the corporate landowners have made it very clear they will not allow any filming of gator hunting on their land. That prevents a lot of potential stars from hitting the flat screen, which is a real shame because they were alligator hunters long before alligator hunting was cool.
Speaking of–have I ever told you the story of the first gator I hauled into a boat? I was a guest of my friend and generational alligator hunter extraordinaire, J.G. Since I wasn’t licensed, I was not allowed to pull the trigger (I don’t want to be the shooter anyway). So J.G. expertly shot the gator right in that one little spot on the skull where a gator is most vulnerable, rendering the creature lifeless.
The gator was only about five feet long and a lightweight, so the men let me try to handle it on my own.
Next, I put my hands tightly around its mouth. There’s no danger in doing this, as the alligator has great power in closing its jaws but not so much when it opens its jaws. So, I felt pretty safe holding the mouth shut with my bare hands, especially since the poor animal was dead.
The next step was to pull the reptile by the head down into the boat, and hopefully the rest of the body would slither over the side and flop onto the deck without much effort. Things worked just as they should, and I felt proud that I had managed to lady-handle that gator by myself.
However, my mental pat on the back was rudely interrupted when I heard the helper whisper to J.G. ,
“Look at his eyes!”
I looked. They were open and not glazed over. What did that mean?
To which J.G. whispered back, “Hand me the gun!” And then to me he ordered, “Hop up on the seat!”
And before I could ask what the heck was going on, J.G. put another .22 bullet in that gator’s head.
My knees kind of went weak when I realized I had just had my hands around the mouth of a gator that was still alive.
That reminds me of another story that happened on a hunt near my home more recently. Capt. Droopy and I were taking out a film crew to get some footage for a documentary.
The hunt was a productive one, and with some great footage taken and a couple boatloads of nice gators, we headed to the landing. Our caravan of boats glided seamlessly over the dark marsh water, twisting and turning with every curve creating a relaxing, hypnotic affect.
Upon closer inspection, we saw the reason. A large male gator, wounded and agitated, had raised up on all fours and lurched toward him.
We pulled alongside the shallow-draft mud boat. As I grabbed the gunwale and held us there, Capt. Droopy found a piece of rope, bravely jumped into the other boat (wearing flip-flops), and deftly wrapped the rope around that monster’s jaws.
Capt. Droopy isn’t a seasoned alligator hunter, but he handled that gator like it was a toy. I wondered why Capt. Droopy wasn’t afraid of being knocked down by the gator’s tail, which is very powerful. Gators use their tails for swimming, knocking down prey, and to propel up out of the water at least half the length of their bodies.
Shortly thereafter and without further mishap, we arrived at the landing where the gators were thrown into the truck like sacks of potatoes–until a helper went to grab the big gator with the rope around its snout.
What a ruckus! That mean gator thrashed its tail so hard at the cowardly helper that it almost knocked him out of the boat. Remember what I said about their tails? At that moment, I realized how lucky Capt. Droopy had been in his heroic effort to subdue that gator. There really was nothing to keep the beast from knocking him down with its tail. Luck. Pure luck.
The gator, even though it had been shot, seemed to be trying to crawl out of the boat. Another young man grabbed his gun and blasted another shot into the furious reptile’s head. Once they were sure it was dead, several men approached the gator with caution, grabbing it by the legs and hoisted it into the truck.
Once again the gator growled, but that was its last growl.
Adrenaline ran high while we stood around laughing at the dance the helper had done getting away from the vicious creature. We marveled over Capt. Droopy stepping into the boat without fear, wondering if he really had any idea how ferocious the animal really was.
These are the true-life stories we will tell over and over and never grow tired of telling. They are stories based on events that none of us could have staged. They were the real deal and suitable for any flat screen.
I just happen to be one of the lucky few who watched in Real Life and not on Reality TV.
Alligator Season starts this week. I’ll be there with my camera and will hopefully get some great photos for your enjoyment.
Ça, c’est la vie sus le bayou. (That’s life on the bayou.)
Here gator, gator, gator, gator!