Unforgettable! That is definitely how you would describe our family vacation. Dale and I were joined by our daughter Shannon and her 2 children; Sarah 9 and Ryan 7, and good friends Mike and Vicki. Both of our grandchildren have been involved with hunting since they could walk. Each of them has taken deer and turkey on the Pennsylvania Mentored Hunt Program, Sarah took her last turkey with a crossbow. This trip would be different; they would be hunting in Alabama and Florida for wild hogs and alligators! We are blessed that we have 3 generations that enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. Even more so, we have 3 generations of Lady hunters, 3 generations of Ladies in Camo!
We started our trip at Racknine Outdoors in Clio, Alabama. Sarah was spot and stalking with me, while Ryan sat in a blind with Shannon. Sarah was a real trooper. While we were trying to get on the trail of the hogs, we worked on skills; picking up trails, identifying tracks, identifying different sounds and plants. Several times we were able to get close enough to hogs that we could hear and smell them, but never got close enough for a shot. I had her lead us out of one area at dark, following the ribbon trail, and we found the boat no problem. Later Terry told us that he has had to find several men in that area that couldn’t find their way out. She has a great internal compass that is right on the money! The one morning we did sit in a box blind, and had a buck come close enough that I could have tripped it, and a doe grazed within a few feet of us. She took many pictures that day, just thrilled to be in the woods.
Moving onto Florida created a unique set of adventures for us. Our first night, as we anticipated alligator hunting, we had a storm front move in and dump a huge amount of rain on us. So instead of hunting, we became well acquainted with the local restaurants. The next day, the sun was shining and the gators spent the day sunning themselves. Capt. Billy Henderson, of Deep South Outfitters, went over crossbow operation and safety with everyone, and we took turns shooting at a water bottle cap. The kids popped it up in the air while Dale and I pinned it to the ground. The crossbow bolt is attached to a float, so everyone needs to be aware of where the rope is located in relationship to your feet. The harpoon and also the bang stick were explained, and Shannon and the kids practiced the motions needed to use them. We went through a few scenarios of how the gators might present themselves, and where to place the corresponding shots. Being as all of our hunting is done at night, Billy explained how the eyes would reflect the spot light, and how they should come into the call. Once everyone felt confident, we were off to the river.
We hunted the Kissimmee River that night and Ryan was up first. The entire evening we had heat lightning lighting up the sky. Occasional we could hear the rumble of thunder resonating across the flat ground, still to far off to be a threat. Several gators were spotted, and halfheartedly responded to Billy’s call. They would hang up at about 20 feet and go down, never to be seen again. Finally a healthy 7 footer came in and presented a good shot. Ryan wasted no time, and spined the alligator and ended his hunt. A perfect shot! He helped with the taping of the jaws and feet, then clicked his tag into the tail.
Next up was Shannon, who was also on her first gator hunt. Again several responded to the call, but would drop out of sight before a shot could be taken. Eventually a good size gator came in, and after a lengthy battle, she managed to land herself a good solid ten footer! By this time, we were getting short on time to get Ryan’s into a cooler or lose the meat, so we called it a night and high tailed it for the processors.
The next evening we were once again hunting the Kissimmee River, but this time they were letting water out of the dams to prepare for Hurricane Isaac, which was anticipated to drop massive amounts of rain on this area. Where we had seen well over a hundred of gators the night before, this night they were few and far between. Sarah was on the front of the boat; Dale was with her to help with the lines. They had a gator come close to the boat, then quickly duck into the brush near the bank. To everyone’s surprise Sarah was able to place a fantastic shot through the branches and soon she was bang sticking her own 9 footer!
The pressure was now really on me. We went for over an hour without having any gator come anywhere close to us. Near the end of the night, with a storm front bearing down on us, I had a good gator start to come in. At 30 feet away he started to hang-up and took a deep breath, indicating to me that he was ready to dive. I took a chance and fired, hitting just behind the skull right before he sank into the depths. He immediately went into death rolls and tangled the line up tight around him. I managed to harpoon him after 2 failed attempts, being as he was still rolling. After a quick shot out of the bang stick, I was taping his mouth and hind feet. We took off toward the dock, and made it to the truck just second before the sky opened up and started dumping a tremendous amount of rain on us.
The next day we tried hunting wild hogs with dogs, something none of us had ever done before. While we took our rifles with us, we ended up using the spear that the guide provided. We pursued them riding in a swamp buggy with the dogs racing in front of us. The dogs really worked together tracking the wild hogs, then a 3rd dog was released to help grab them by the ears. Once the dogs had control of the hog, we would move in to spear the animal. This allowed us the opportunity to harvest 5 good meat hogs, and have some really great memories! While I love eating wild hog, the ability to help get a few of these destructive animals out of the swamps really makes it worthwhile. Filling the freezer with fresh sausage is an added bonus!
That evening the tails of Hurricane Isaac hit us, so instead of hunting, we spent the evening in the hotel lobby in an impromptu Hurricane Party. The power kept going out, so it was still an early evening. The wind howled all night, and the rain flooded all low areas. We were under tornado warning most of the night, and police brought several families to the hotel because of flooding to their homes. By morning the hotel, that had been almost empty the day before, was filled with people seeking refuge from the storm. The next day was no better, winds were high and the rain continued. Bowling for the kids, and gambling for the adults helped fill the time. Surprisingly Dale won enough at slots to spring for dinner for everyone.
The next day was still bad, but we only had 2 nights’ left and still had 4 tags to fill. We were hunting Lake Okeechobee that night, and there was a heavy chop on the water complicating things even more. We started our hunt under a double rainbow, which left us with lots of hope that a big gator would be our pot of gold! After a few sightings of gator eyes, one came in within a few feet of the boat, and Mike let his bolt fly. The bolt hit solidly, and the gator took off with the float trailing behind. We caught up with it in a bed of hydrilla. With Billy holding the line, Mike poised with the harpoon, Dale started quickly pulling the mounds of hydrilla that was wrapped around the line. As soon as he opened up a clear area, Mike stuck the gator with the harpoon, and we were able to get control of the situation. Hit with the bang stick, wrap the mouth and legs and the 9’ gator was tagged. We tried for another, but conditions were deteriorating quickly, again.
Our final day to hunt, the sun was shining and the wind died down some. It seemed we would finally have a good day to go out. WRONG! Shortly before we were to leave, the skies opened up and the winds once more started to blow. We still had to go. We headed south to a dock on Lake Okeechobee and kept our finger crossed that maybe, just maybe we could get out on the water. The water was still really high, and cotton mouth snakes were in the parking lots. We killed one, and saw several more that other people had dispatched before we got there. I hate the idea of being around poisonous snakes in the dark! I would much rather face an alligator than a cotton mouth!
Vicki did not have long to wait at all, the boat was barely launched when she got on an 8 footer. She managed to get her shot made before the rains started, but we still had to harpoon the gator, shoot it with the bang stick and get it in the boat during a pouring rain. By the time this gator was in the boat, everyone was soaking wet and covered with mosquito bites. We retreated to the truck, and hoped for a break in the weather.
After what seemed like an eternity, all of the food and drink in the truck was consumed, and the weather finally gave us a break. We searched for a long time to even find an alligator; the weather was pushing them deeper into the water. We caught a glimpse of good size eyes a very long way off, but we had to try. Slowly we crept up using only the trolling motor. I think this gator was confused as to why anyone in their right mind would be out on a night like tonight. Confused or not, he presented a shot that Dale could not refuse, and our 7th alligator was tagged for the week. Whew! We had to work hard for all of the gators we took this week. We still have one tag left that hopefully we can make it down after September 12th to use. Our tags were for the 2nd week of the season, but after September 12th any unfilled tags may be used again.
We are passing on our love of the outdoors to our kids and grandchildren, teaching them skills that are not taught in our schools. Good or bad, this trip was what memories are made of. We had a lot of wonderful experiences that we got to share with our family and friends, we got to laugh and cheer each other on. Three generations of our family got to enjoy the hunting, fishing and fun that this trip had to offer! We harvested 5 wild hogs and 7 alligators, and filled our freezers for the upcoming year. How can you go wrong with that!