October 2007
Featured Articles

ALABAMA GATOR HUNT

After hooking a big gator on a giant spinning
reel and dispatching him with a shotgun, this
Baldwin County sportsman couldn’t decide
if he was hunting or fishing.


 
  Roger Barnhill III, Danny Oglesby, Kenny Stewart and Ken Tolbert took this 10-½ foot, 250-pound alligator on opening day of the 2007 season.
By Ben Norman

When Roger Barnhill jerked his heavy saltwater fishing rod into the air to set the size 14-0 hook into a 10-½ foot, 250-pound alligator, he set the stage for the fight of his life.

"That gator would strip line for a while and then just go to the bottom and sit there. I had to tug and pull to get him to move, but once he did, the fight was on again. It took four of us about an hour-and-a-half to get him along side the boat," said Barnhill.

Barnhill, who is employed by AGRI-AFC, a LLC of Alabama Farmers Cooperative, lives in Loxley and manages a fertilizer plant and a chemical location there and in Summerdale. Barnhill is an avid hunter, so he and a few friends just decided to apply for a gator permit. They were selected through a random computer drawing.

 
Roger Barnhill III of Loxley could not believe this big gator surfaced in front of them and stayed until 8 a.m. when alligator season official opened on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.  
"We hunted about one-half mile north of the causeway in Mobile on Conway Creek," said Barnhill.

Barnhill, Danny Oglesby from Selma, Kenny Stewart and Ken Tolbert from Loxley, joined forces to see if they could bag one of the giant gators so abundant in the area. "We attended the required safety and familiarization course and did a good bit of scouting before opening day," said Barnhill.

On opening day of alligator season, legal hunting time does not begin until 8 p.m. Barnhill and his hunting buddies were drifting in the main river channel discussing what area they would search first, when a big gator surfaced about 25 feet in front of the boat.

"We just could not believe that big gator was just sitting there looking at us and it wasn’t even legal hunting time yet. We had to wait for about 45 minutes until 8:00. We just eased the boat up to within casting distance and I cast, pulled the hook over him, set it hard and the fight was on," said Barnhill.

After the 1-1/2 hour fight, Barnhill’s party was able to get another line on him, then a snare. They dispatched the giant gator with a single shot 20 gauge with a no. 6 turkey load.

He explained, "After dispatching the gator we taped his mouth closed and tied the feet to make sure that in the unlikely case he revived, he couldn’t hurt anyone. The last thing in the world you want is a gator reviving in a small boat. Once we had him secured we proceeded to the check in station operated by the Conservation Department."

Barnhill said the fun started when it came time to dress the gator. "I hung the gator in a walk-in cooler at the hunting club where I am a member. The next morning it took us about 3-½ hours to skin the gator. We saved the hide for tanning and got over 60 pounds of edible meat from him." A lot of people think the tail is the only edible part, but gators have two loins along the backbone similar to those of a deer that are delicious. He also points out the jowls on each side of the head contain some excellent meat.

When asked about the taste, Barnhill replied: "Gator meat really has a taste of its own. The texture reminds me of fried wild turkey, but with a little more of a chicken taste." He recommends mixing one-half flour and one-half corn meal, adding a Cajun seasoning and deep frying it just like fish. "Cooked right, it is some mighty good eating."

 
  An Alabama record alligator of 641 pounds taken during the first weekend of the 2007 season on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta was caught and dispatched by (from left) Chad Conner of Saraland, Bill Cobb of Birmingham, Mark Fincher of Elberta, Kenny Hanak of Daphne, Brad Russell of Birmingham and permit holder John Sutton of Stockton. A 675-pound alligator was taken during the second weekend of the season at Lake Eufaula by William Simmons, breaking the previous record.
According to Chuck Sharp, head wildlife biologist at the Department of Conservation Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in Spanish Fort, the 2007 Alligator Season was a success. "This was the second alligator hunting season for the Mobile-Tensaw Delta region and the first for the Walter F. George reservoir in Eufaula. The Department decided to issue 50 tags last year but only 46 people applied. Of the 46 permits issued, 40 were successful in harvesting a gator." Sharpe added that this year the number of tags issued was doubled to 100 in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta area and 84 hunters were successful. Out of the 40 permits issued for the Eufaula hunt, 15 were successful.

Sharpe said some really nice gators were harvested during this season. Alabama law prohibits harvesting a gator less than 6 feet in total length but this was no problem to the lucky permit holders this year.

"All the gators taken this year were well over the minimum. All exceeded 7 feet with the longest measuring over 12 feet and the heaviest weighing in at 675 pounds," said Sharpe.

Sharpe said most participants used a large treble hook on a heavy-duty rod and reel. Some used a combination bowfishing outfit and a rod and reel to get the gator next to the boat where it could be dispatched. Alabama law allows the use of a shotgun with no. 4 shot or smaller or a bang stick of at least .38 caliber. Rifles and pistols are not legal for dispatching a hooked gator.

Danny Oglesby, Barnhill’s hunting partner, admits that adrenaline can run high when one brings a big gator along side the boat.

"I got to admit, I did have flashbacks to the Crocodile Dundee movie when that giant croc explodes out of the water onto shore. While reaching over to secure another line on our gator, I kept my lead foot in a position to ‘jump back’ as fast as I had to," laughs Oglesby. "But I’ll be going next year and I recommend anyone who likes to hunt to apply for a permit."

For information on applying for a permit to hunt alligator in the Baldwin-Mobile area call 251-626-5474 and for the Eufaula area call 334-347-9467.

Ben Norman is an outdoor writer from Highland Home.