Best Family Vacation Ever!
by Ryan Gehl
Alligator in the Everglades
Ok, I know this is not a Saskatchewan based hunt but, it is a couple of Saskatchewan hunters doing it right in new hunting grounds.
Knocking off the big "A" on the life list. Checking and re-checking the suit cases and camera gear. It was only hours before my family and I were to leave the 3 feet of Saskatchewan Canada snow and fly south to the warmth of Orlando Florida,USA. Most families who head to Orlando have big plans of spending their vacation on the Disney fair grounds. Chasing after Goofey and Mickey trying to secure that perfect picture of the kids. A family keep sake to remember their trip by.
Our family had a MUCH different plan for a successful trip to this fine state. I had finally after a lifetime of dreaming and wanting, had arranged for my son and I to go alligator and hog hunting. Even as I type this I still can't believe this trip happened. We were to meet our hunting guide on some private lands that were surrounded by swamps, palms and canals. Perfect terrain for our quarry. Having spoken with our guide prior to flying south, I had arranged for us to avoid the hassles of flying with weapons. We would just borrow his rifle. Perfect, one less thing to pack.
I knew the rifle was to be .243 caliber. Great, I had a rifle in .243 caliber. My 8 year old son Zach and I spent many an afternoon getting him use to shooting a "big gun". Being a gopher "sniper" with a .22 rifle is a lot different than pulling the trigger on a .243. He took to the gun like he was born with it in his hand. I could not help but smile every time I seen this little guy pull the trigger on this "to big for him gun" and hit the bull-eyes eye time and time again. I knew we were ready.
Anticipation built as we drove our rental van to our meeting spot with our guide. I was like a kid on Christmas eve. Zach was excited, but stated he was very nervous about missing. I told him not to worry. "If you miss, you miss". No big deal. He agreed to a point, but I could see he was still nervous.
Upon arriving at our meeting spot we saw our hunting vehicle. It was a huge homemade "monster truck" looking thing. With its 7 foot tires and open deck on top, it was a sight to be had. Especially for an 8 year old boy! "Cool! We get to ride on that?!" " Yup" our guide said. Zach's nerves were forgotten and the excitement built.
Before we headed out on the hunt our guide went into this building and returned with a frozen alligator's head. Seeing as we had never seen a real alligator, he wanted to point out where to aim if we get the chance to shoot; right behind the eye. A spot about the size of a golf ball was all we had to aim for. He told us that alligators are cold blooded. They cannot be killed (ethically) with chest shot, unlike warm blooded game.
Good to know, because I was chest shooting before he said that! Having the shot placement explained Zach, my wife (camera person) and I climbed up on our "swamp buggy". Having settled into the seats our guide asked us if we noticed the 5 foot gator in the canal as we drove in? "No!?" He said it would be perfect for Zach to try for since he knew this gator lived there. If Zach was to miss it, it would return time and time again throughout the day. "Perfect" we said. Let's get close and see if we can see this critter.
The swamp buggy rumbled down the gravel road, right past where we drove in. He stopped the engine and pointed to the grass under a palm along the other bank. "There, do you see him?" "No" we said. "Look hard he is camouflaged in that green duck weed". Zach said "yup I see him!" I do too now. 80 yards away I could see a 5 foot gator with a kill zone the size of a coin. The guide leaned over and whispered" don't worry WHEN he misses we will just come back and try again". "Ok good".
Zach picked up the .243 rifle, loaded a shell. Upon shouldering it we noted it was longer in the stock than mine. No worries Zach tucked the butt under his arm pit and leaned into the scope. Free hand at 80 yards, I know what kind of shot that is with a rifle. Not to mention one that is NOT under my arm, lol. I said "shoot if you can see him". "I see him" Zach said. "Ok 1,2,3 and slowly squeeze like we practiced at home." 1,2,BANG! The gator rolled and never even moved.
"You got him!" the guide yelled while shaking his head in disbelief. Acting all cool Zach looked over to him "well, ya!" We all burst out laughing and said "let's go have a look".
Didn't have to ask Zach twice! Like a rocket he was running to the canal. There we could see the gator's tail sticking out of the water. I reached in and pulled the trophy of a lifetime from the weed choked canal. We looked the gator over in ah. What an amazing creature. Its body was firm, unlike I imagined it to be. We looked at the head and noted the bullet entry wound. You could not have drawn it on any better. Text book shot! Some still pictures and off we go to fulfill my lifelong dream to harvest a gator. I told the guide "I wanted a BIG guy or nothing. "OK" he said" I know just the guy" We rumbled across wet saw grass and small palm looking plants. Mud, water or grass it didn't matter this swamp buggy never missed a beat.
We arrived on another canal bank. Here only the guide, myself and my camera person could come." Too dangerous for any others" the guide said. My heart raced! I can't believe it! I am going to get a chance at a gator I thought, as we crept in the tall grass on the canal. Not once did the "danger" part ever come to mind. We crept as quite as one would to hunt a deer.
"The gators can feel vibration so move slowly" the guide said quietly. We approached a livestock watering pond. We call them dugouts back in Canada. The guide stopped and crouched down. We did too. He pointed to the other side of the dugout. "There he is" he said. I never seen nothing! Just the endless minnows surfacing and making little rigs in the water. He said "Just watch".
We sat and sat. Then just like beavers we hunt back home, I seen him! Ever so slowly as to not disturb the water's surface a nose, then eyes appears. "There he is I said!" Pop! Down he went again! My heart sank. We waited and waited some more. About 20 yards from where I first seen, him I noted what looked like a nose sticking out of the weeds along the shore. YES! I saw his eyes come out from under the water. I pointed this time to the guide. He shook his head and gave me the go ahead.
Shooting sticks in place I rose the .243 rifle up. Upon seeing my quarry in the scope I remember a couple of things that went through my mind. Firstly, I could not believe it. I have the cross hairs on an alligators head! Secondly, I could hear Zach's voice "I hit my gator in one shot dad, I will be listening and counting your shots, lol". Ok slow breath out and squeeze...
BANG! The water exploded like a grenade went off! I remember seeing a splash of red in the exploding water. Just then the guide jumped up and yelled" You got him! Come on!" "Ok!" I ran with him to the shore where the gator was last seen. Nothing! Oh man, I could see my luck turning fast. The guide said "stand back".
He unravelled a long rope with a large 3 pronged hook on it. He pointed to some bubbles in the water and threw the hook out. "Get ready to shoot" he yelled as he set the hook and took off running! Here I am standing on the shore of a dugout with an unknown sized gator in it. Hit once and I am sure it is VERY upset with me. Now my guide is running the other way?! Before I could second guess my situation the water erupted again 5ft in front of me!
My lord! Here is this wild, huge and VERY angry gator thrashing around and getting dragged towards me! I thankfully had chambered another round before the guide took off running. In all the craziness that seemed like it was in slow motion I managed to zero in on his head. With the rifle out stretched in one arm I just pointed and shot. The water went calm and the gator limp.
WOW, I needed to take a deep breath after that. The guide now winding up his rope smiled and said " looks like a good one". Having only seen one other gator in my life before I knew this gator was ALOT bigger than Zachs."Just leave it there and we will get the others" said our guide. I could see Zach's face as we walked close to the swamp buggy. "I heard 2 shots dad!,lol "I know, I know but wait till you see why".
10 minutes had passed now and the guide felt it safe for us to go and get the alligator out of the water. Zach and I walked up the water's edge and laid eyes on the head and neck of this thing of beauty! I reached down and grabbed a leg and started to pull. Now the gators true size was made apparent. Zach took 2 steps back in surprize as I dragged this 11 foot gator from its watery resting spot. We looked it over like it was a science experiment. Looking at it battle scarred tail, armoured back and its amazing mouth. "Well we did it son, got our gators and knocked off the big "A" from our life list". "Time to get our first ever hogs now dad". "Yes it is". Our hog hunt was slated if we were to tag out on gator early enough that day. We proceeded to have an amazing hog hunt that day, but that is a whole nother story!
I remember the feelings I had from that day, as I stared out the plane's window. I watched our coolers with our gator hides in them get loaded, I recall the great sense of pride I felt that day. Sure I seen and harvested an alligator, a lifelong dream. The real highlight though was that I was able to share this experience with my son and wife.
I will never forget the shot Zach made on his gator or how he acted when he saw it for the first time. This was the "trophy" of this hunt. Oh and yes we did see Mickey Mouse too on that trip, lol. After the hunt!
Photo by Snow Factory http://flic.kr/p/zFWXm