Adventures In Alligator Hunting
Swamp fever seems have swept the country as many people became addicted to the TV show "Swamp People". I have to admit that it is entertaining and packed full of real characters. I have watched it a few times but since I don't have cable, I haven't seen it a lot. But then again, I don't have to watch a TV show to see how alligators are hunted. I get to see it in real life every year with my fiancé who hunts alligators during alligator season.
I have to say that the TV show "Swamp People" is a bit dramatic, and it seems to be a bit of exaggeration that every alligator they catch is estimated at over 10 feet long. The reality of gator hunting is that the water is mostly peaceful and the scenery is beautiful. There is wildlife all around you, such as egrets, roseate spoonbills, snakes, basking turtles and alligators, and even the occasional eagle.
We start out early in the morning. He packs his necessities such as the alligator tags (which are mandatory), bait, cold drinks, sunscreen and his gun. I pack my camera, a towel to sit on, snacks, a sunhat, and a book to read, in case I feel like reading. I follow him in another small boat so that I can get the best angles on the pictures that I take. The boats are just aluminum flat boats about 18 feet long, nothing big or fancy. Al is completely at home on the water, knows every path there is and fears nothing. He also crawfishes back in these waters during crawfish season. These are both rather strenuous jobs that require heavy work and dealing with heat but he prefers this life over a 9-5 job at an indoor, sitting at a desk or dealing with a boss.
We drive through the woods, down a long winding dirt road till we get to the water. From there, we launch the boat and head out to the more open water where he will set out his bait. Bait is usually cow parts from the butcher or fish that have been caught for this purpose. The stinker, the better. Sometimes bait comes to us, in the form of some funny fish that always jump in our boat while we are on the water. These kamikaze fish jump out of the water like crazy when a boat is by them, and they often jump out of the water and hit someone in the boat. We just laugh and add them to the bait supply. It is pretty funny to see someone hit upside the head by a leaping fish.
Al sets the hooks with bait and hangs them from the trees above the water. He ties them securely to the tree and then loops the excess rope lightly on the so the alligator has some slack when he takes the bait. That's it, and then the next part is repeating that, over and over, in different locations, and then retreating to let the alligators take the bait. One of his friends pilots the boat that I am in, so I am free to enjoy the scenery, take whatever pics I want, and just relax and enjoy the ride.
Later in the day, or the next morning, we head out again. If the rope with the bait is no longer dangling above the water, then there is a good chance an alligator has taken it. But there are also birds or other animals that have been known to take the bait as well. Alligators have also been known to bend the hooks or snap the lines.
.A taut line or bubbles in the water indicate an alligator is probably on the line. Al pulls the alligator up to the side of the boat, shoots him (or her) and loads it in the boat. There usually isn't a huge fight or a lot of danger. Then Al tags them, baits the line again and it is off to the next spot.
Hunting regulations on alligators are strictly enforced. You have to have a valid hunting license, tags for each gator you kill and the state determines your quota of alligators. You are also supposed to hunt in the area that you listed on your application. With the current popularity of Swamp People, there are more people expressing an interest in alligator hunting. They see it as a novelty but for some people around here, it is a yearly source of income and no big deal.
Alligators are sold by the pound to local markets. The longer the alligator, the more you get per pound. Nowadays, you make more money on the meat, rather than the hide. So Al no longer skins them or butchers them, he simply brings them whole to the market. The market will process them by skinning them and packaging the meat and selling it.
Many people around here like to eat alligator (and frog legs and raccoon, etc.), although I am not one of them. They say alligator tastes like chicken but I just can’t summon up any enthusiasm for it. I just say “I don’t eat alligators and I hope they won’t eat me”. Most often, we fry it up with potatoes and other fish. We fry up a lot of it and have friends and family over so it is a social even. Sometimes we just tell the kids it is chicken and they never know the difference.
I may not like to eat alligator but my cats sure do. They went crazy over it and loved it. I snuck them a few pieces of fried alligator. I was amused that my cats are higher on the food chain than alligators. After all, how many “Cat Eats Alligator” stories do you hear of?
Frankly, I don't like any seafood but that is another story. Al surely thinks I am "throwed off" (meaning crazy) for not eating seafood, but he never complains when I pick the shrimp and crawfish out of my food and put them on his plate. He has generously vowed to help me out by eating all of the seafood that I don't want, for the rest of my life. How noble of him!
The meat and the hide are the main products of alligator hunting but some people collect the teeth. The teeth have a hole in them that make them easy to string up on jewelry. The most unusual use for an alligator part is using one of the back-plate bones to make a part of a guitar. Apparently the bony plates below the ridges on an alligator back are great because they are hard to break and they are the perfect density to produce beautiful music. These plates can also be carved to make jewelry, along with the teeth. If you want an easy way to strip the meat from the bones, or the skull, you can get most of the meat off with a knife and then put the bone or skull in a bed of ants. They will strip in clean in a matter of days.
Once the tags are all filled (usually about 30 of them) then alligator season is over for us till the next year. But don’t worry, life doesn’t get dull then. There is always crawfish season, deer season, duck season, pecan season (you harvest them, not hunt them and shoot them, lol) and many other seasons of the year. That’s Louisiana for you, and that’s why I love to live here.