Here is Jeff's recap of our adventure:
It's a few minutes after midnight September 3rd and we've just pulled up to the boat ramp on the Altamaha River just south of Darien and begin to nervously ready our gear for a long night on the water.
I've been carried to this point after 5 years of gathering priority points for Georgia's alligator quota hunt and burning them all to insure a spot in zone 7 for this year's season. My good fortune has also sent a friendship with a gentleman who, though a veteran of only one gator season, came equipped with a sturdy platform from which to hunt, all the gear and very successful hunt under his belt.
When Dan Starnes learned that I had a gator tag for zone 7 he quickly came to my aid offering his assistance, boat and gear. Having shared a dove field and a boat on the Coosa River with Dan, plus the better part of a decade of internet discussions, I knew I would be in good hands and did not hesitate to accept his kind invitation and quickly went to work to draft other members of the team and search for accommodations for the weekend.
I immediately began to run a mental check of my friends in order to determine where I would turn for the rest of my team. It turns out that my friends list is not that long! However, it is a very rich list! I had several friends with whom I would have been proud to share the experience but most were already committed to the great Southern Tradition of taking sons dove busting on Labor Day weekend.
My first choice was a gentleman who seems to be outdoors every time I hear from him. I wonder at times if he is gainfully employed because if he is not "knee deep in it", he is working a booth or doing seminars at an outdoors show or pushing kayaks at BassPro. Randy "Riverpirate" Vinings got the nod and answered the call.
Now, with the addition of Dan's hunting buddy, who accompanied him on his successful gator hunt last year, the 4 man team was set and the work of determining where we would set base camp began.
I first asked Dan and Randy if they would like to remain in Darien for the whole weekend, taking advantage of having Dan's Carolina Skiff on the coast by trying a bit of inshore fishing after the lizard was in the cooler, if we were so lucky. They seemed excited at that prospect so I began the search for a place to lay our heads. That led me to a cottage in Darien that my wife and I had spied on a previous trip to the coast. I dialed the number from the scrap of paper where Debbie had scrawled the words "High Tide Cottage" and Capt. Andy Hill answered.
The cottage is a circa 1930's home just a block off the waterfront in downtown Darien with 3 bedrooms and a "bungalow" across the small courtyard with 2 twin beds. Capt. Andy made me an offer which included 3 pounds of wild Georgia shrimp, a bushel of oysters and a smoked "Coastal Butt" complete with "Private Island" barbecue sauce.
I ran the deal past the team and then booked the place for the weekend.
A week before we were set to leave, Hurricane Irene threw us a curve ball as Dan's friend was called to action by his employer and he was sent to Virginia to aid with cleanup, leaving me with a gap in the lineup.
I turned to one of my co-workers, Mark Munday, a friend with whom I have shared a boat offshore many a day and more than one campfire. Mark is a fine angler, life-long hunter, a great "Mr. Fixit" and a Master of the grill! He agreed to join the team and brought the Mrs. along to keep Debbie company while were on the water.
So, here were are, after a hour and a half nap Friday night, standing at the ramp checking down the gear one last time, Dan leading us through the game plan and putting the boat in the river, 3 boats launching and blasting into the night in front of us.
We putted away from the ramp at idle speed and shined the lights on the distant shore and I saw my first "red light", the now iconic indicator that marked our quarry. We began to ease toward the bank the gator, of unknown size, resting back under a overhanging tree. As we approached, whispering a discussion concerning our options of tactics, the lizard slithered away.
We were armed with several heavy baitcasters, spinning reels, archery equipment, various lengths of harpoons and a set of snares as we scanned the banks of Georgia's mightiest river for the red glow of reptile eyes.
In a matter of seconds the light reflected from a gator that even an inexperienced hunter could tell was very large alligator! He proved to have little patience with us and blasted away shaking the grass and water in a large swath as he departed.
We saw another gator here, there, I threw the weighted treble hook at one missing by a greater distance than I care to admit. We round a corner and the water lit up with red reflections! It was as if we had busted a covey of quail and we set about to hunt the singles as we stumbled across a mother lode of lizards, not tight up against the bank, but rather, right out in the open water where casting across them should be much easier.
Dan and I began alternately casting, accuracy improving with each attempt until Dan made the throw that paid off!
When the treble stuck in the gator he splashed and ran and it was obvious that Mr. Starne's time guiding clients for monster striped bass on north Georgia's reservoirs was going to payoff in spades. The gator ran. Dan pulled and cranked. The gator seemed to be laying on the bottom at one point and Randy looked at Dan and in a calm, even voice inquired to Dan, "Why don't you pull him up here so we can see him"
I don't recall Dan's response verbatim but I do remember some stuttering and the excited words "I'm trying' being involved.
In a few moments we had a good look at the lizard under light and were faced with the decision of removing the hook and freeing the gator, we would later give the nickname "Staples", so we could hope to catch a larger gator. I asked for opinions but all I heard was "It is your tag, your decision."
A couple of minutes later I had selected the ten foot harpoon, applied the point attached to a buoy, handed the buoy to Mark, and with Randy holding the light on the gator, I slammed the point into the gator just behind the shoulder.
He didn't like that!
Off like a missile, he ripped the buoy away from Mark who, against instruction, had tried to hold on.
I was a bit concerned having felt a sharp "clank" and knowing I had hit just inside the first row of scoots and into the armor plate, but my concern was short lived. The point drove deep and held tight.
It took only a few short moments for Dan to use the reel to get the gator close enough to the boat for Randy to grab the buoy and pull him close enough for me to apply the snare. The gator began to roll as Randy held on to the snare, buoy line and fishing braid as the gator snapped and wove them all together around his jaw.
I readied my handgun, Randy and Dan worked to position the gator for the finale while Mark circled the boat yelling the obligatory "choot'em! choot'em!!!"
At WRD's gator hunting class, the most important tidbit I think I learned was the proper positioning of the kill shot and it paid off. I knew the barrel should be placed just behind the skull, angled forward in order to avoid spraying bone and bullet fragments.
With the gator in position, having snagged, fought, harpooned, snared and subdued the 7' 5" Georgia alligator at the boat, less than an hour into the 2011Georgia alligator season, I placed the Ruger P94 at the base of the gator's head and pressed the "Easy button"!
Back at the ramp at 1:23 AM we were met by a game warden who checked our licenses, tag and "Staples" while we had a very pleasant conversation.
IT WAS EPIC!!!
The remainder of the weekend we enjoyed fishing around the Hampton River, some very enjoyable time in Georgia's coastal estuaries, out to Pelican Spit into the Atlantic, catching a few fish including a personal best flounder, which Grillmaster Mark cooked to perfection to accompany a wonderful feast prepared by Debbie and Mark's wife, Kathy back at the cottage.
There is not one thing I would change about this weekend, from the results, to the food, to the companionship!
I LOVE GEORGIA!!!
Here is staples and the crew: