What do you do when you have spent the summer bass fishing and are looking for something new?
Go alligator hunting of course!
That's what Mandy Uhrich decided to do last week when the opportunity came up. Mandy is biologist and avid outdoors enthusiast who travels multiple states and countries each year in the pursuit of fins, feathers and fur. So for her to reference this hunt as "her once-in-a-lifetime hunt," I knew it was a great story.
Mandy traveled to southern South Carolina to assist a good friend and mentor who is a commercial private lands trapper. He harvests alligators, among other critters, from privately owned properties. She had the opportunity to scout and hunt over 16,000 acres of private property.
"I've never had the chance to get face-to-face with a predator that dates back millions of years," Uhrich said. "Or one with this many teeth!"
Each private property is issued a specific number of tags based on the acreage of water and what the estimated sustainable alligator numbers are. They're not there to completely eliminate the alligators from the properties but instead implement a commercial hunt that takes a percentage to help keep the population in check. It also eliminates large nuisance gators that have the potential to harm people and pets at the same time.
"We would find runs where the gators were crossing over dike tops to pass from water body to water body," Uhrich explained. "Then we would set wire loop snares on them and securely stake down the cables. There are no hooks, bait or shooting them from boats on the water like you see on TV."
So it's not like "Swamp People?"
"Not in this area. Once an alligator is in the snare it will dive back in the water," Uhrich added. "The problem lies in not knowing where it's caught - leg, tail, neck or body. I would grab the cable and start to drag in the swamp lizards. The grass along the dike edges is very tall and prevents you from seeing where the alligator is snared until you pull it through the grass on top of the dikes. I had a couple that were caught by the tail and mid-body which made the situation a bit dangerous. They came out of the grass snapping, snarling and rolling!
"Once the alligator was up on dry land, we used a catch pole to get the gator to snap down on the pole loop, at that point we would push the head down and keep pressure on it while I climbed on its back with my knees behind its head. I would then grab the top and bottom jaw keeping constant pressure while pulling the head straight back to my chest. I would then tape the mouth shut. Once the mouth was taped shut, without moving from my current position, I would pull the front legs back, pin them between my knees and hog tie them together. I would then spin quickly and do the same to the back legs."
Securing the alligators in such a manner provides two purposes. The alligators would then be easy to handle to dispatch in the "kill spot" without fear of bone spurs or having to take a second shot. Also alligators will move, convulse and, as Uhrich found out the hard way, puke hours after they have been killed.
"When you have six alligators in the back of a side-by-side you don't want flopping tails, claws or jaws!" she said.
Similar to whitetail hunting, each alligator needs to be tagged immediately. Alligators have to be tagged in the tips of their tails with a yellow private land tag that has a serial number identifying what property it was taken from. They are also tagged with a black CITES tag that allows for the carcass, meat, hide, etc. to be transported off that property.
They brought the alligators to a locker where they are chilled whole until a processor picks them up.
"With some help, I processed my largest alligator and brought it home with me to Minnesota," Uhrich said. "The GIANT 11-footer proved to be quite a battle and the perfect ending to a truly exceptional opportunity. Nothing was wasted from my big boy. We skinned out the alligator, scrapping and salting the hide to be shipped off to be processed, I took the claws and the head to mount, then proceeded to process the meat just as you would a deer. There are two kinds of meat on an alligator, white and red.
The white meat tastes just like chicken and the red meat tastes just like pork chops. Four hours that 600 plus pound alligator had all but disappeared!"
Her excitement couldn't be contained while she was telling the story, so I knew it was one that everyone would enjoy.
Now if we ever have a gator problem in the area, we know who to call.
If you want to check out the video or more pictures of the hunt, check out What's Up Outdoors on Facebook.
JAMIE DIETMAN, What's Up Outdoors, may be reached at 218-820-7757.