Alligator hunting is not for the faint of heart

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / September 17, 2000

DES ALLEMANDS – Braced against the side of the boat, you pull in as best you can. When the catch gets close, hold on tight because 900 pounds, tworows of sharp teeth and a jaw that could crush a car is nothing you want to tangle with up close. This isn’t a task for a momma’s boy, this is hunting foralligators.

The month of September brings an exciting season for hunters. Hundreds ofhunters climb into their boats to haul some 35,000 alligators a year out of the swamp.

The Breaux family brings in about 30 or so alligators a year, averaging about nine feet long but sometimes as long as 12 or 13 feet.

To catch an alligator, hunters usually set a line and hook over the water.

The gator smells the bait, lunges up out of the water and grabs hold, hook and all.

When the hunters come back around, the alligator is waiting, hardly happy about the predicament.

Just because there is an alligator on the line right there for you, it isn’t always a safe and easy task bringing it home.

“They hide, try to fight and try to get away,” said Emile Breaux. Tearing upthe land and water, the alligator thrashes around until he tires himself or you out. “Anything bigger than 10 feet is very hard to bring in,” said EmileBreaux.

The only way to finish them is to shoot them in the head, but something that big doesn’t give you an easy opportunity. Tommy Breaux has seenalligators travel under stumps and brush and bury themselves in the mud to get away.

“Sometimes you’ll work for two or three hours, pulling up stumps just to get to the alligator,” he said.

Once it’s been shot and is dragged into the boat, it’s usually a safe ride back to the dock, but not always. Tommy Breaux and Norman Marmillion wereriding back in the boat when one of the alligators decided to come back to life. “We hadn’t noticed him until he turned back around,” said TommyBreaux. The alligator came charging ready for a snack of its own, whenBreaux pulled his gun from his hip and shot it a second time. After thethird shot, the alligator finally succumbed.

Emile Breaux and many other hunters have had the same experience. “Wehad shot the gator two or three times before hauling him into the boat,” said Emile Breaux. The gator, stunned but not dead, revived and was not toohappy. Balancing carefully between staying away from the alligator, andstaying in the boat with the alligator, Emile was able to shoot it three more times before it died. “They’re tough. If you don’t hit them just in the rightplace, you can’t kill it,” said Emile Breaux.

Mike Boudreaux, a captain in the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’sOffice, said he had a eight-foot alligator stay stunned until the truck ride home.

It then decided to jump out of the truck and head off, after it had been tag and ready to put on the cleaning table.

The bigger they get the tougher they are. Tommy Breaux has been using a22-magnum caliber pistol to catch alligators. Shooting a 13-footalligator, the bullet ricochet off the hide.

Shelia Melancon gave Tommy Breaux pictures of her minivan after she ran over a 12-foot alligator on Louisiana Highway 3127. The alligator reachedup and tore a section of the plastic covering her front bumper right of the van as she passed over it. Melancon said she stopped farther down the road andgot out to see if it was still alive, only to find it was nowhere in sight and had lumbered back off into the swamp.

Kenny Schmill, who is called by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries department when there is an alligator found on someone’s property, has heard other vehicle stories. A group of men were reported to have tried torun over an eight-foot alligator with the intention of taking it home. Thealligator bit into their tire and left them on the side of the road with a flat.

Retrieving nuisance alligators out of people yards and businesses can be even more difficult than usual, said Schmill. He’s been asked to go into plantsand such where the alligators have wandered in. A 10-foot alligator wasreported by Shell Chemical. With no lighters or other combustibles allowed on theproperty, Schmill had to capture the alligator without the use of a firearm.

Though the prizes of catching big alligators is thrilling, both the Breauxs and Boudreauxs agree that much of the enjoyment is found with friends and family who help out with the cleaning and preparation afterwards.

Boudreaux pulled in a 12-foot, 900-pound gator, much of which will be given away to friends and family. They always throw a big party and everyonecomes around to help, said Boudreaux.

Tommy Breaux’s son, Emile, is the fourth generation of alligator hunters in the family, said Tommy. He has a picture of his father, also Emile, with a14- foot gator back in 1952.

“All Cajuns were farmers, hunters and trappers,” said Tommy Breaux. Hisfamily and friends also gather during hunting season to help with the alligators. Just like in the old days, everyone helps out. “Everyone wantsto get in on it. That night we have a big supper,” said Tommy Breaux. He seesthe season as a continuation of the Cajun lifestyle, begun and still carried on in the swamps of Louisiana.

In years past, Tommy Breaux has pulled in 20,000 pounds in a season. Likethe rest of the hunters, some goes to their friends and the rest is sold.

Tommy Breaux sells some of the alligator meat through his B&C Seafood market and serves some in the adjoining restaurant. The rest is shipped,throughout Louisiana, the country and sometimes as far away as Europe and Japan.

All the alligators are harvested strictly through the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Brandt Savoie, administrator of the Fern RefugeDivision, explains the process of determining who gets tags and how many.

Every five years the division surveys the land in Louisiana. Property israted through what kind and how much fern growth there is. The better theranking the more tags are given. “The best habitat for alligators is anintermediate,” between a salt and fresh water marsh, said Savoie.

The better the marsh for the alligator, the more tags the land owner receives. This year, 35,000 tags were given out.Alligator hunters receive the tags by owning the land or are contracted by the land owners. The hunters bring a written agreement to Wildlife andFisheries where they receive their tags.

Last year, a bonus tag program was started. With a high population ofalligators in Louisiana, bonus tags were given out for use on only smaller alligators, six feet or less. Savoie explains that most of the alligators arein the length of less than six feet. Also many will die off before they grow tothe prized 10-12 foot size, so the bonus tags will not lessen the amount of large alligators in the future.

All unused tags are required to be turned back in 15 days after the season ends. Processors are required to report the amount of meat and number ofalligators brought to them to Wildlife and Fisheries. Eventually allalligators are accounted for, said Savoie.

Alligator season is both fun for the hunters and friends. If your nerves canhandle it, any hunter will tell you that it’s a thrill pulling in 900 pounds of thrashing, biting reptile. Back home, friends and family come together tohelp. A party reminiscent of the days settlers first came to Louisiana candrag on into the night after the food has been skinned, cleaned, cook, and wiped clean from the plate.

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