Guys... Wanted to post a bit of the story as just now I am able to start to put in words the experience last weekend. Up to today…I just could not put the trip into words as I think I was in shock or at least coming off my hunting high!
For starters, I cannot say enough for the experience that Michael Evans from Cherry Hill Hunting Preserve brought to the hunt.
I just can say Thank You... for the pre-work, guidance and prep, and work during the hunt Michael and Trey put in to make this hunt a success. I have worked with Guides in TX, Manitoba, and had experiences with the services that guides provide in KS for the "whitetail hunts"… and I can say that Michael and Trey worked every minute of the hunt to give the best experience possible.
It started out just after dark... with thunderstorms on the horizon, fog coming off the water, and a perfectly still night as the boat put in on the river. It was quite a sight, myself, a 5 year Georgia transplant from Missouri who grew up on the Missouri River, Paul another Georgia transplant from SD who grew up hunting on the rivers near Mitchell, and Randy a great friend from KS who likes dry land….. now sitting quietly while slipping into a strange river in zone 8. We started the mission with the famous last words fresh in our heads from Michael stated 3 weeks before.... You better bring help if you are looking for a big gator as I WILL NOT be under-manned if we get into a good sized gator again. So there we were, 5 of us… shoving off from the ramp with Michael at the helm, Trey on the bow with eagle eyes ready to find the Gators and the three wide eyed newbies. Looking back on it now, I would have loved to been at the launch to see the look on our faces as the 3 of us newbies floated by the launch looking like school girls on their first roller coaster ride! Not more than 40 yards from the ramp Michael and Trey said "one" as Trey pulled out the clicker to start the count.... Michael had warned us that the first few gators would be used to get the "ship into shape" and everyone to learn their jobs... I just didn’t know the true scale of the operation until Michael started up the motor and flipped the switch.... The night turned to day with the power of the lights of his new boat the 20' Carpinator, as we cruised up the river with the kind of presence that one would imagine a patrol boat might have had in a river in a far away land. (minus the 50 cal guns of course)
It was not long until all noobies had the hang of their job and Trey “the terminator” would call out the next gator from the darnedest places and distances. I still wonder if he has x-ray vision or something to be able to spot the gators from some of the craziest places on the river.... Needless to say... 76 confirmed gators later and 5 hours later we turn around and started back down the river. Now the action was fast...everything happened faster now…. Going down river allowed a 2-3 second decision to
1. Determine which way the gator was pointed.
2. Size the Gator up
3. Check for a clear shot while floating down the river.
Developing the skill is good… but this was more of an art at this speed and I was getting it under control quickly.
Based on the pre-work Michael had done with Topo maps, he knew just which sites we were going to focus on during the trip back down the river and called out the first three spots were just ahead. As we rounded the bend on the third spot, the team spotted three different sets of eyes, Michael picked the set of eyes that fit the profile of a gator being in the right place at the right time and with this decision we rolled the dice as the boat floated into position to float past as close as possible. As we got close Michael put the light above MR. Gator and I knew this was the 2 second decision that would make or break the nights hunt. 3:10 AM…… You see the nose “Check”..... You see the eyes “Check”.... You measure the size “10 inches?”…. You gauge the distance… “12-15 yards?”. You see the next break in the willows..... Zingggggggg …… as the 350# line flies off the Gator-aider and disappears into the green water.
Next thing I know I was desperately wanting to get rid of all remaining line on my bow as I watched the line going down stream quickly heading for the log jams. If you kept up with Michaels adventures from the weekend before….. I was starting to fear for his life as he again may feel compelled to jump out of the boat to chase gators on foot!! We could not have that happen again!!! – However, after a bit of teamwork and guidance from Michael and Trey, the game was on as Mr. Gator was moving out of the log jam and heading for deeper water in the center of the river channel.
Quite a scene, Michael and myself getting fresh line on a second arrow to get the Gator-aider ready to strike. Randy, head over the side of the boat, pulling with all his might on a string no bigger than some kite strings. Trey focused on guiding the boat to get ready for the shot. With Paul providing the light to turn this into a floating circus. All of this happening as the Gator decides where he wants to drag the boat next. Quite a site seeing Randy looking into alien green water (from the lights), trying to pull in a UFO (un-identified ferocious object) up to the boat that he has not seen to the willows at the time of the shot. Randy the whole time he was pulling was also thinking about all the warnings we have been given about how Mr. Gator would not be happy if he decided to visit us at the boat. This is where things get a bit weird from me… I remember hearing things in slow motion “Shhhhhhoooooooot” “Shoooooot Hiiiiiiim”. I remember thinking easy for someone else to say but all I see is a bunch of guys looking over the boat at alien green water and ……..wait, now I see it… the arrow nock. I see more of the arrow shaft now appearing and raising to the top of the water… I can now see most of the length of the shaft when I hear it again in slow motion…. “Shhhhoooooooot” with a bit more panic in the voice this time sounding like we only have seconds before the line breaks. I estimate where the end of the first arrow should be and let a second arrow fly into the green water, Zingggggggg ……goes the Gator-aider spool again. After time compression resumed to normal speed, the fight was on and next thing I know now Randy and I both are pulling with all our effort to see a monster that seems as big around as a barrel start to appear in the visible water near the surface. From that point on, a pinch of lead, some electrical tape and 45 minutes later the fight was over.
While this post is long I wanted to try to put the experience in words for all of those who are still waiting for their chance to be drawn and have a chance to have a first class alligator hunting adventure. Cherry Hills Hunting Preserve exceeded my expectations and the team worked hard to make this a great hunt. While on paper it looks very easy to get what you need to go gator hunting… Its operations like this that it to the next level.
Thanks also to GON for providing a forum that enables people from all parts of the state to share common interests and network with so many people. Through the posts and help of many members I was put in touch with many people who were well qualified to take me on my first gator hunt.
Would I do it again…. Let’s put it this way.. in all the years of hunting deer in MO, KS and IA, pheasant, ducks, coyotes, turkey, raccoons as well as running trap lines during high-school… I will never forget this experience. I would recommend it to anyone. Although it may slow down when I get my next permit if word travels too far