Gator Hunting in the Louisiana Bayous
I love the thwack! of a solid hit. When I know my bow is tuned; my form was good. It’s music to my ears. Like the hum of a smooth-running engine.
Opening week of the Louisiana gator season found me in the bayous doing what I love best: hunting. My friend Jason Lemoine had some gator tags and an extra spot in his boat for me to ride along and check the 56 lines he’d set a few days before. Turned out, the action began before we ever left land.
Jason had set a few traps along the levee road leading down to the boat dock and a taut line drew us to a quick halt. We exited the truck and I grabbed my Obsession DEF-CON bow, strapped on my release and nocked an arrow. Other gators would succumb to the rifle, but this first one was going to be a bow kill. Or was it?
Jason, pulling in the line, the rope strung through his calloused hands, held the gator’s head out of the water while I took aim. My first arrow glanced off its head and skipped out into the water. Yeah, I know where to shoot an alligator. Hit the soft spot between the head and neck!
My next arrow flew true and the ice was broken. The first of the eventual 14 we’d end up with was loaded into the truck and we again started toward the boat. The few other lines Jason had hung along the levee road were lifeless; only the rotten chicken bait permeating its foulness in the humid morning air.
The author made sure this gator was dead before posing for a photo.
Hunters travel to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and of course Louisiana every late summer and early fall for a chance at the inhospitable, gnarly American alligator. So, let’s back up for a second and talk about the gator “traps” for anyone unfamiliar with this Gulf-states sport. There are a few ways to hunt them, one of which is the method we used throughout the day. Ever seen the TV show Swamp People? Yep, just like that. Ground a solid pole, this can be anything from steel to a stout wood post, like bodock. Tie a 12/0 (pronounced: twelve ought) hook to a strong piece of line, preferably braided rope. Hang it off the end of your rod about two feet above the water, and most importantly, use the rottenest, most foul-smelling meat you can muster. Let chicken, fish, nutria, whatever, marinate out in the hot sun for a couple of days before threading it onto the hook with a gloved hand. Voila! You’ve set a gator rig. When they’re caught in this method, gators are usually dispatched with a small caliber bullet to the back of the head. I personally enjoy drawing a bead with my bow on a few from time to time.
With all the rain Louisiana had received a few weeks prior, the flooding bayous had pushed a lot of gators out of their holes and into the surrounding woods and swamps. In other words, they really weren’t where they should have been. But that’s hunting.
That first day was the devil’s kind of hot. Humid too. Every inch of clothing I wore stuck to my body. Those factors were small fries though compared to the smell. Just to drive home the point, the worst part, despite the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and a boatload of gators, some of which, it turned out, weren’t completely dead as they lay motionless below our feet, was the stench of the bait. If you want to diet, go gator hunting. Your appetite will give you the cold shoulder for quite a while.
However, the smell wasn’t so bad when the boat was running planed out through the high waters of the bayous. The whir of the engine brought up other problems in the form of Asian carp. It’s funny to see your buddy get whacked by one. It is not funny when, as you’re laughing hysterically, you suddenly get a mouthful of scales and slime. Serves me right, I guess.
We ended day one with 14 gators, the biggest of which was eight and a half feet long. The next morning’s sun rose on myself, Mary Grace House, and brothers Andy and Nic Losavio trolling through the bayous, checking lines. We glassed the shores for tripped rigs as we putted along in the sticky morning air. Same conditions as day one.
The first tight line we idled up to was another chance for me to shoot a gator with my bow. Again, the first arrow ricocheted off his head… at five feet. How’s that for hard-headed? I’d even go as far to say $150 is a pretty good guess at the total loss in arrows and broadheads during those couple days. The gator didn’t care about any of that and quickly took action, hauling butt up the bank into the lilies. When it finally calmed down I repositioned and let fly another arrow. It was not off the mark though it wasn’t fatal either. Later, as we set up for a photo op, I touched the gator’s eye and it blinked.
“He just blinked!” I nearly yelled.
“Man, you’re just scared,” said somebody. I couldn’t tell who was speaking through my astonishment that here I was handling a live, five-foot gator. Would you believe the next thing I was going to do was open up his mouth for the photo? It’s a blessing I accidentally touched his eye or I might be posing with a bloody stump where my hand used to be.
Andy Losavio using the TEKOA binocular to glass for tripped gator rigs.
We killed a few more over the coming days. Mary Grace shot one. A perfectly placed arrow we thought. We hauled the seemingly stone-dead gator into the boat and took off for the next line. I can’t really think of the adjective to properly describe the reaction in the boat when that gator stood up a few minutes later like nothing had happened. Luckily, it was right under Nic’s leg, who thought to grab its mouth. If you put your hand under a gator’s mouth, it can’t open its jaws. Remember this in case you find yourself in a similar situation. We pulled over to the bank, got it out of the boat and put a .22 bullet into its head so that we were able to continue the ride with level heart rates. But if I can tell you from first-hand experience: that’s gator hunting.
Mary Grace House shoulders the gator she killed while hunting with the author and the Losavio brothers in Louisiana.
We had a few good hunts; were able to harvest some nice gators in fairly good quantity. Afterwards we all kicked back together and enjoyed some grilled (fresh) chicken, pork chops and a rabbit. I thought about the next few days, the miles I’d travel, the people I’d meet and the animals I’d hunt. I regarded these thoughts with subdued enthusiasm, knowing that good times lay on the horizon. But there’s just something about a hunt close to home with good friends and family that really beats all.
Get to know Josh Carney, Son of the South, if you don’t already. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and right here at TractOptics.com as we begin a journey that might lead us just about anywhere.
The Losavio brothers guide trophy alligator hunts. If you have an interest in venturing into Cajun country for some action-packed fun, get in touch. (Nic: 225-240-3430)
All photographs courtesy Mary Grace House.