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TIPS FROM THE SOUTH'S MOST EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL GATOR GUIDE

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Quality * Service * Integrity

Capt. Phil Walters - 813-968-6154
 

Gator Hunting Across The South: A synopsis of State programs

Gator Hunting 101

  Now that youíre draw to hunt gators, you may find information on hunting & equipment is scarce. In the next few pages Iíll give you a crash course on what equipment you need & why you need to increase your chances of success while decreasing your chance of injury.

 About Gator Guides & Ratworks

   Weíve been hunting gators since 1990, have harvested thousands of gators and guided hundreds of clients on safe hunts while filling  95% of our tags, with a 9' average over 1 night of hunting. At one time, our guides had 7 of the top 10 Safari Club International record book gators. If you do a Google search on Phil Walters & ďgatorsĒ or ďairboat,Ē youíll see weíve been around the block.

  On the same Google search, you will also find a number of stories on how ďJoeĒ hunted a gator, but little practical information on ďwhatís neededĒ and ďhow toĒ hunt gators. Pay attention!

RatWorks Equipment

  All our equipment is hand made for heavy duty commercial use. Itís made to be practical, affordable, durable and above all,  functional, RatWorks is found in use by nuisance trappers and guides across the South and in Australia for Crocodile hunting. (FYI: Crocs grow up to 20'.)  Our equipment will put gators in the boat where other equipment will produce a miss.

 What You Need & Why

Basic Equipment:

1) Harpoon Pole- Driver, line, float, dart  
2) Hands free headlight  
3) Bangstick
4) Electrical tape
5) Gaff   
6) Sharp Knife    
7) Optional: Fishing rod & snatch hooks, Bone Crusher harpoon pole

(see more detailed info below) 

 Because of the habitat, gator hunting is totally different from any other type of  hunting. The key to harvesting a gator is locating him & attaching a restraining line. The best, anywhere method of attaching a workable restraining line is a HARPOON and should be considered  MANDATORY for gators over 7'. While a bow rigged for fish works well in open water, they donít function so great with a small line in vegetation, timber, brush or other obstructions. Remember; if you shaft a gator, you need to harvest him regardless of where he runs! With a harpoon rigged with the line through the pole, you may harpoon any size gator in any circumstance and be reasonably able to retrieve him. If you shaft a 8+ gator with your bow, you more than likely will have to harpoon him to gain control. Then again, if heís only 6', the bow line will work.

  A simple locating line, for open water use, is a casting rod & a snatch hook. A large hook is used to hook them on the bottom, a small hook to accurately cast over a swimming gator. For a large hook, 50-80lb mono line or Fireline works great. For casting distance, 20-50lb line is fine. Tip: Donít try to set the hook, as 90% of the time the hook wonít penetrate the hide & a jerk will make him ballistic. ALWAYS keep the line snug on him.

   Once hooked, the trick is to tire him to where you can HARPOON him, attaching a large restraining line. If heís on the bottom, a harpoon made of a section of galvanized 3/4" pipe (Bone Crusher pole) will nail him. If pulled boat side, a jab pole or a throw pole will work. NOTE: hit him in a soft spot such as the neck, flank or large part of the tail. Try to avoid the back armor and NEVER hit one in the head!

Ratworks Harpoons & kits are made to give good penetration with the ability to THROW  the pole up to 30' for extra range. The drivers are 3-1/2" because longer makes them bend easier and makes dart retrievable difficult. The pipe mount is added to give weight to provide inertia to puncture the hide. The Ratworks Double Bite darts are made to penetrate and lock with MINIMUM effort, as  longer darts offer no holding advantage but take more energy to bury below the dovetail. Believe me, we have experimented with many sizes and have concluded the Double Bite to be the most effective. Competitors darts work, however; marginal shots with a RatWorks dart have a greater chance of sticking because it takes less energy to bury. NOTE: you must put as much power as possible in your throw/jab. If you hit soft neck or flank, little energy is needed. If you hit back armor, much more energy is needed to drive the dart BETWEEN the scoots to bury. When boat side, DO NOT try to push the dart in. Wonít work. Either throw the pole or give a firm, hard jab.

While working a gator in range of harpoon or bow, a HANDS FREE HEADLAMP is recommended. Most of your hunting will be at night as the gators are more active after dark. If youíre very lucky, you may harvest one at sunset or sunrise. More than likely youíll be out after dark. While you may get by without a hands free light, your harvest will be much more successful when you have Two Hands on equipment and the light is ALWAYS where youíre looking. Tip: Only ONE person on board should be working a light. Once a gator is spotted, hand signals should be used to point the direction of the gator. Quiet on approach!

 

Bangstick

While not required, itís a good idea to carry a bangstick. Every year we have to kill gators under trees, tangled in bushes or wrapped in vegetation. Additionally, bangsticks provide a safe, quick & humane method to dispatch a gator. CAUTION: Only use your bangstick underwater and do not load until the gator is COMPLETELY TIRED! NEVER have a loaded stick in your vessel.

 We recommend a bangstick over a handgun because most vessels donít offer a stable platform to shoot, safety of your fellow hunters as when a gator is shot above water, bone & lead can be sprayed in all directions (watch your eyes) and the sound can be intense, not to mention any nearby homes at night. Many times a large gator will bite or jar a boat. Will you be stable with your finger on the trigger and your buddy next to you? A bangstick is a very good idea.

 Wrap up

You now have a large, very tired gator boat side thatís acting calm. (Heís calm but can still bite & may have a few bursts of energy left in him. BE CAREFUL!) You load your bangstick, take aim, drop the gator under at least 8" of water & hit him HARD with the bangstick just behind the back of the head. Tip: NEVER hit them on the top of the head or above water as this can spray bone & lead! Itís a good shot, you get blood and the gator goes limp. Next, take your gaff and hook him under the front tip of the bottom jaw. (Never fight a gator with a gaff. Pull it off him. If heís still fighting, bang him again) Pin him EYEBALLS TO THE GUNNEL, with the belly facing away from you and his mouth securely shut, you may now CAREFULLY tape his mouth firmly shut. Tip: Always watch the gator for movement and watch the gaff! I do 4-5 firm wraps of black electrical tape. (much easier to use than duct tape and works well on wet objects)

  With his mouth tightly taped, pull him onboard and sever his spine with a Buck knife just behind the bump of the head in the soft spot of the neck. Gently work your blade through the hide & meat down to the bone. Use the knife tip to find the gap of the vertebrae. Once located, drive the knife into the vertebrae using the palm of your hand (DONĒT SLIP!) until you have BOTH good blood flow AND a quick nervous reflex from the gator. With the spine severed, heís dead & wonít return to life. Next, place your state or CITIES tag 6" from the end of the tail, snapping the tag over the BOTTOM of the tail. Tip: Itís a good idea while both severing the spine & cutting for the tag to either stand on the gator or tail or place a knee onto them to keep them subdued and give you leverage. Carry a squeeze bottle of a little soap, water & bleach to rinse with after you handle a gator. They have very nasty bacteria on them. Immediately treat any cut or scratch with an anti-bacteria agent.

 Optional Equipment

   The fishing rod & snatch hook will only work in open water. A hooked gator may run 10 yards or 100+ yards, so look around before you toss a hook and use judgment. For areas thatís open water, the hook makes a great locating devise to get a harpoon into them.

  The Bone Crusher (10' of 3/4" galvanized pipe) harpoon pole works great for gators too big to surface as you can drop the pole down onto them. They work great for boat side gators as they will punch just about any part of the gator. The downside is you canít throw a pipe & they sink, so secure the pole to your vessel.

  This is a listing of the BASIC equipment need to harvest a few gators. While you can make this as complicated as you like, this is all the specialized equipment we carry for either charter hunts or commercial harvest. (95% of our clients harvest two gators with a 9' average in one night using this equipment) With the harvest success rate only 33% in Georgia, with proper preparation and correct equipment, your chances of success are greatly improved.

 Advice

While I canít cover hunting technique in this short letter, I did cover the basic needs of gator hunting. On the technique side, youíll just have to spend some time on the water & learn the gatorís habits.

 Gator hunting is safe. The boating at night, equipment, reflexes of your fellow hunters and areas you hunt may not be. Pay attention at all times. Watch your lines & equipment. Watch the waterway for logs, rocks & obstructions. Have all your safety equipment onboard & wear your PFD! When the action happens, it happens in a FLASH!

 Know the area youíre going to hunt. Be courteous to waterfront home owners late at night. (Lights, shots)

  Become familiar with your equipment before the hunt. Practice throwing your harpoon pole. Know how youíll rig your vessel and watch everyone onboard while on the water. Stay calm & have a plan.

   For scouting, you may want to ask around at bait shops, fish camps, feed stores, ect as many local folks are only too happy to talk hunting and have a large gator removed from their pond or lake. Always wash your gator with a soap/bleach mix to kill bacteria before you skin them.

  If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 813-968-6154. Iíll help with time permitting. Come September 1 to October 8, Iím hunting gators all night.............so call before season if you can!  

Good Luck!
Capt. Phil Walters

 

EQUIPMENT DETAILS

HARPOON POLE

  • Never use your pole as a lever. They snap and youíre S.O.L.!
  • Try to dart the gator in the soft spot just behind the head, Then again, A weak shot is better than no shot!
  • If the gator is coming or looking at you, let him pass, then dart him. When heís looking at you, your dart will bounce off his head or slide from his back.
  • Practice throwing your pole before the season. A good throwing arm is the difference between filling tags and burning time.
  • Keep a second dart pole handy. You might miss the first shot. With a second pole, you may get a second shot. Also, poles break and get lost, so $99 is cheap insurance, compared to your investment.

BANG STICK TIPS

  • You can never be too careful with them. This is the most dangerous part of the harvest!
  • Never fire above the water! It will damage your eardrums and could send bone fragments fling! Let him tire, bring him up, get a good look
  • at his lay out, pick your spot behind the head, drop him down under 8" of water. When you hit him, HIT HIM HARD as heís going down!
  • Never load a bang stick until you are ready to use it. Once loaded, always keep it pointed over the side. If you donít immediately fire it, unload it!
  • Never bang a big gator on the head. A .44 mag. wonít penetrate the top of a 10' gator, but will spray lead & bone.
  • Never bring your gator into the boat until heís been taped. Itís much easier to sever the spine on a big boy while heís over the gunnel.
  • Do this only after heís taped!
  • Remington brass shells seem to work the best in bangsticks. Keep a screw driver handy in case a shell lodges in the barrel.
  • Check Screws & nuts after each firing!

LIGHT TIPS

  •  Conserve light and battery power. If not, you may not have it when you need it.
  •  Have only one person use the light, preferable the boat driver. The boat driver can only follow one light at a time.
  •  Wear dark clothes. These donít reflect light and help reduce glare.
  •  Avoid having anything white on board. Try to black out whatever you can.
  •  Tie the power cord of your spot light to the rigging to prevent user from pulling the power cord from the battery.

LINE TIPS

  • Use a 5 gallon bucket to keep your line & float in. This will help keep your boat organized and your lines ready to use. If itís a white bucket, paint it black.
  • If youíre hunting near lots of vegetation, rig your pole with the dartline running through it. Drill a hole about 12" from the end, run the line through it, then tie a knot on the float side of the line. This will help tire the gator and may keep him from going far into a hole.
  • Do not stand on the dartline. Get ready and set well before you dart the gator or throw the pole. Assign a person to assist the darter.  This person should check lines and footing of the darter. This way the darter may concentrate 100% on their target.

OTHER

  • Boat skippers, give all aboard assignments, such as dart lines, light lines, general equipment or navigation. Everybody wants to help, but too many or wrong assignments makes for mistakes. Give everyone a roll of tape! Keep tabs on what everyone is doing! And on air boats, keep a close eye on all equipment and where people put things. If your crew has never been airboating before, take a few minutes and explain the boat & rules. No shifting weight, no cans or loose items on floor, no lines or poles near prop. Remember Murphyís law!
  • If you bring a big gator into your boat, make sure heís dead. Tie him down before you power up. A shifting gator may sink your boat.
  • Make sure the spine is severed. When you load him, put his head to the back of the boat and roll him onto his back. This will help bleed him and improves the meat. Also, do not allow gas, oil or bug spray to touch his hide. It can ruin it. Keep your boat clean.
  • Should the newspaper or media contact you, be on your Sunday best behavior! Discuss this with your harvest team. The media will report what they hear & see, so tell them & show them the best possible side of our sport. If you pass on the media, please give them my name & number or call me with theirs.
  • Wash your hands with alcohol or soap after you handle a gator. They are full of nasties and should you get a good infection from a scratch, it could cost you lots of $$$$ in Dr. bills plus pain. Its worth the prevention.
  • Many of the harvest areas are remote and prone to theft. As a precaution, pull your vehicleís coil wire and lock your trailer to your truck.
  • Keep your gators iced and covered. Avoid direct sunlight for any length of time. They spoil quickly! The value is in the meat, if your meat spoils, the gator is next to worthless. $20.00 for ice is a wise investment.
  • Donít scrimp on sleep.

Happy Hunting!
-Capt. Phil Walters
South's Most Experienced Professional Gator Guide

 

Sometimes, you need to use both hands! When you hook a gator, ALWAYS keep the line tight as the hook will not penetrate the hide! Keep the line tight on pumps as well, If not, the hook will drop. If you have one line on the gator, try to tire him then attach another, stronger line to him. Do not attempt to harpoon or boat him until he is TIRED!

If the water is deep or he's too big to pull boat side, a Ratworks "Bone Crusher" Pole is the ticket! Pull the fishing lines perpendicular to the water's surface & drop the pole between the lines on top of him. The "Bone Crusher" also works wonders boat side on darting big bull gators. Upper left of picture is the Bone Crusher pole being readied for use. This gator was harponed in 30' of water while on the bottom of a pit. He was over 12'.

 

Jim Thompson lines up for a harpoon shot. Always be ready or you'll miss the big one! For short harpoons, use ONE HAND to throw. For longer ones, use two hands for a hard jab. Either way, hit him AS HARD as you can. Aim for the neck, don't hit the head! If he drops & you think he's in range........THROW the POLE where he went down! Once thrown, quickly retrieve the line/pole. If you stuck him, you'll know it. If not, re-rig the pole quickly for another shot. Practice make perfect.........

 

For large gators, a second dart in him is insurance. Always wear your PFD while in a boat!

 

For taping the jaws, a gaff works better than a snare. Only gaff a TIRED gator! Don't fight him with the gaff. If he fights, tire him more.
 Gaff him at the front-bottom of the jaw. Bring him boatside EYES to the GUNNEL as pictured. Reason: it keeps his mouth closed if he slips and prevents him from jumping into the boat.

 

 
Always tape your gator! Tape his jaws shut TIGHT! Keep your fingers out of his jaws. Once taped, roll him on his belly to pull into the boat & don't pull the tape off! Electrical tape works well because: Its fast to use, fits in everyone's pocket (makes it always available when needed) sticks well when wet and is quick & easy when wrapping. Give him 5-6 wraps, a few more if he's over 10'.

Once taped, always sever the spine. Cut the hide/meat & GENTLY work your blade BETWEEN the vertebra! Let your knife do the cutting! When your blade in the vertebra, he'll flinch, you'll draw running blood, and he'll close his eyes (as pictured) for good. Work the blade down to the hilt.

Tips: pushing the head down while cutting opens up the spinal column. Keep the blood out of your boat if possible. It's very slick on deck, coagulates quickly and doesn't easily bilge out.

 

 

Firmly hold the tail when you're cutting to tag. Often, the gator will twitch when you cut him, so be careful! Don't over-react!
Cut in the first scale seam from the bottom about 6" from the end. snap the tag UNDER THE GATOR! If you snap it over the top or tag higher on the tail, it makes it very difficult to skin around the tag.
Tag your gator immediately upon capture/death. Once tagged, don't rip if off. If you have to drag the gator in, tie the tail into the boat to keep away from the prop or getting snagged.

Things not to do!

Do NOT harpoon gators in the head! On larger gators, a head shot 99% of the time will fail. It will  bounce off and often you'll bend the drive, so don't hit them in the head.

 This is a rare shot on a 7' gator. Bob Palumbo drove the Ratworks dart through the head. The bone plate on a gator this size is about 3/8 of an inch, whereas on a 10' gator, it may be 3/4" to an inch thick. With a "Run & Gun" hit at 30 mph, he got lucky.