By Adam Heggenstaller, Shooting Illustrated Editor-in-Chief
Somewhere in the darkest corner of the tepid, black-water depths lay a monster. The few feet of white nylon rope we could see stretched taut beneath the still surface pointed to its lair. Beyond that, the connection to our prehistoric quarry disappeared in the murk, leaving us to ponder aloud in quavering voices about the size of what was on the other end of the line.
My hunting partner brushed a spider from his shoulder and checked the chamber of his handgun. We were about to tangle with a reptile having cold-blooded ties to T-Rex and a maw lined with teeth larger than our thumbs. Suddenly the skinny aluminum hull separating us from the water seemed to offer little security.
Hunting alligators is an experience that borders on the surreal. Familiar oaks and hickories are replaced by primeval palms and waterlogged cypresses draped with old man's beard. Instead of quietly hiking along a ridge, you skim through a swamp in an airboat that makes so much noise you have to shout to communicate. You trade your parka and boots for a T-shirt and sandals, scent-eliminating spray for heavy doses of DEET. You engage the game in a tug of war, muscling it from the tea-colored depths until it rolls along the boat and presents a fleeting opportunity to pierce its walnut-sized brain with a hastily aimed bullet.
That's how they do it in Florida, at least on private land, and in the swamps and bayous across the Deep South. Gator populations are strong there, ever-expanding; in some places the menacing critters cause humans to fret by swimming in their pools and snacking on their poodles. Hunting techniques vary. Snagging hooks and bang-sticks are used, but often it's a combination of fishing and trapping and hand-to-hand combat with a point-blank shot in the final moments that ends water-sprayed struggles. Taking full advantage of a gator's relish for rotting flesh, hunters skewer chunks of putrid beef lung on massive hooks hung a couple feet above the water. They tie the hooks to trees with a length of sturdy rope, and leave them for the gators to find. Then it's a matter of bringing the gators to the boat for a shot.
We already had a half-dozen gators piled by our feet like logs—their mouths bound shut with liberal wraps of duct tape—by the time our host took us to a channel where he had set a line for a particularly large one the night before. Now, with the hook gone and the rope pulled toward the bottom, it was time to do battle.
The first few feet of cord came easy, as if the gator had chewed through the line and was gone. But then there was steady resistance, though it was not accompanied by the usual frenzied thrashing brought by the gators we had fought earlier. This one stayed deep, calculating its next move, giving in to the tug from above until it could get close enough to stop the annoyance. Six feet from the boat, the gator slowly rose to the surface, its head and jaws larger than our chests. One powerful swipe of its tail, and it would be in our laps. My partner was quick on the trigger to prevent this, his three shots hitting the gator squarely in its leathery skull behind its yellow eyes. We were both shaking slightly, mostly from adrenaline but also maybe a bit of fear. Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator is scary even when it's dead.
How to Put Down A Black Bear
Most hunters are used to aiming behind the shoulder on deer for a double-lung shot. This works on bears, too; you can aim right behind the top of the shoulder and nearly halfway up the side. Better yet, break one or both shoulders. A bullet that busts bone and bursts lungs is the best way to anchor a bear. Bullet and bone fragments should damage the lungs and maybe even the heart. If you accidentally hit high you should still sever the bear's spine.
Take this shot only on a wounded bear that needs to be anchored. Your target is the top of the tail, not below it, so nervous and skeletal systems are hit. You want to split the pelvis and take out the back legs so a finishing shot can be taken.
Try to brain a charging bear. From the front, your target is just above a line that would join the top of the eyes. If possible, wait till the head points down or at a 90-degree angle to the bullet path. Keep shooting until it is down, as an adrenaline-charged bruin can be hard to stop.
If it's facing you, aim just below the jaw to drive the bullet through the neck and chest. If it's quartering toward you, aim for the shoulder you can see and send the bullet through the chest cavity. If it's quartering away, do this in reverse by shooting up through the chest to the far shoulder.
At this year's Texas Truck Rodeo, —the Texas Auto Writers Association named Ram Trucks worthy of delivering true Lone Star State capability. We're proud to announce Ram Trucks roped in some respected awards, including the highly coveted title of Truck of Texas for the 2011 Ram 1500. No small feat in a state that's known for big things—like standards for their trucks.
2011 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn: Luxury Pickup Truck of Texas. Fit for the rodeo. Worthy of Rodeo Drive. Ram Laramie Longhorn was named Luxury Truck of Texas for a reason–it's loaded with only the best. Like premium leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, ornate belt buckle seatbacks and more. With authentic southwest style and true Ram Truck capability, 2011 Ram Laramie Longhorn sets a higher standard for luxury trucks.
2011 Ram Outdoorsman: Full-Size Pickup Truck of Texas. From open range to thick backwoods, Ram Outdoorsman has the off-road capability to take you where ordinary trucks can't. Rugged, all-terrain tires, heavy-duty cooling, enhanced lighting and available RamBox storage with Mopar gun and fishing rod holsters making heading into the sticks more fun than ever.
1EPA est. 14 city/20 hwy mpg for Ram 4x2. Ram, HEMI, and RamBox are registered trademarks of Chrysler Group LLC.
We Hunt Bear by Adam Heggenstaller, Editor in Chief, Shooting Illustrated
The season begins with 22 of us staring at a net of rhododendron that rises steeply to meet a lead-colored sky... Read More »
Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »