Andy Moats always figured his 16-foot boat was plenty big for gator hunting.
Now he’s not so sure.
Tuesday night, Moats and fellow hunter Ken Johnson launched their aluminum boat near Augusta’s New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, hoping for a glimpse of a good-sized Savannah River gator.
“We had been hunting hard since opening night,” said Moats, who was among this year’s lucky lottery winners drawn for a coveted Georgia alligator tag.
He was drawn for the first time four years ago – and took a smaller gator. This time, he said, it had to be something special.
“I wanted to trophy hunt,” he said. “We had already counted about 40 gators. We could have killed lots of the 5-footers, but we wanted something really big.”
By the time their spotlight caught the broad gap between the eyes of a motionless gator, both men knew it was a big. They just didn’t realize how big.
“We used a harpoon rig with a Muzzy gator-getter point,” Moats said. “I put the first line in him, and after seeing how big he was, Ken stuck him again to have two lines in the gator.”
The noisy tug-of-war lasted about two hours, ending with the reptile being dispatched with a round from a .40-caliber Glock pistol.
Although the hunt was over, the work had just begun.
The carnivorous reptile was far too large to drag into their boat, so they lashed it to the side of the vessel and motored slowly back to the launch ramp.
“We had to back my truck down the boat ramp with the tailgate under the water, just to get the gator out of the water,” he said, adding that they recruited four of their friends to help load the beast.
Before taking the gator to a processor to have its hide and meat preserved, they stopped at a local business with certified scales. Its official weight was 560 pounds, and its length was measured at 11 feet, 9 inches.
Although the gator is well shy of a state record, it is among the larger ones found so far up the Savannah River, close to the Fall Line that is considered the edge of its range.
Statewide, the largest gators on record include an 860-pounder killed in Quitman County in 2011; and a 724-pound gator killed in Chattahoochee County in 2009.
Georgia’s 2012 alligator season opened Sept. 1 and closes Oct. 7 and is limited to recipients of the 850 tags issued annually by the state’s Wildlife Resources Division. The regulations allow multiple hunters to participate in a hunt, as long as one of them has a tag. All participants must possess a separate alligator license.
The tag program is highly competitive and has become moreso each year, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Wildlife Resources Division.
This year, the department processed 11,429 applications for the 850 available tags, she said. That number was up significantly from the 8,849 applications received in 2011.
The American alligator is another conservation success story. Habitat loss and unregulated market hunting nearly eliminated the species by the early 1900s and alligators were listed as endangered in 1967. During the next two decades, their population began to recover, and the species was delisted in 1987.
Since then, through management programs, gator populations continued to expand to sustainable levels that allow many states – including Georgia and South Carolina – to offer limited recreational hunting opportunities.
Georgia held its inaugural season in 2003, when just 184 permits were issued, yielding a harvest of 72 gators. Since then, the annual harvest has grown to about 200 gators per season.
More details about Georgia’s gator hunting program are available at http://www.georgiawildlife.com/node/610.
PUBLIC LANDS DAY: Day-use fees at recreation areas along lakes Thurmond, Russell, and Hartwell will be waived in honor of National Public Lands Day on Sept. 29, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The waiver does not apply to camping and camping-related services, or fees for specialized facilities such as group picnic shelters. State and local agencies and partners that manage recreation areas located at Savannah District reservoirs are encouraged but not required to participate with this waiver of day-use fees in the areas they manage.