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Everglades Gator Tail

by Frank Richardson

After hearing wild gator-hunting stories from my good friend Cole Berger, I decided I’d apply for a gator tag this year. I had been only mildly interested in gator hunting before – that is until I tried some gator tail at a local restaurant and found it to be delicious!

I applied for the first phase drawing, but my name was not drawn. However, I was lucky enough to be drawn in the second phase and got my license and tags for two gators! My first call was to tell my son, Frank, we would be gator hunting. I then called Cole to ask just about every question that could be asked about gator hunting and the equipment I would need.

Cole was able to give me a lot of good information, and I also got some great advice from the owners of several different retailers of alligator hunting equipment. Jeff Leserra of www.huntinglight.com, Phil Walters of GatorGuides.com and Jamie Fowler from F2 Outdoors all provided a lot of great information and advice. Jeff and Phil were exhibitors at a FWC gator hunting class I attended, and Jamie was an exhibitor at the Big Buck Expo. I already knew Jeff, as he had sold me all of my lights and a gig for frogs.

Everyone I talked to seemed to have a different preferred method of hunting gators. I soon realized that other than complying with the multitude of laws governing how gators can be hunted, there was no one specific method everyone agreed on.

Florida law requires that no matter what method is used, the gator must remain attached to the hunter or boat by a line at all times. The goal is to get one or more harpoon darts through the gator’s tough skin. To initially connect with a gator, some people use crossbows, some use snatch hooks, some use a baited, wooden peg and some use harpoons.

The one thing that just about everyone agreed on was that medium-length gators (from 5 to 8 feet) were the best for eating. But, they also all felt that these same “medium-length” gators had the potential to be the most dangerous – as they were large enough to do quite a bit of damage, yet small enough to be able to move very quickly.

Not being interested in a big, trophy-size gator, and wanting some tender gator tail, I set my sights on a medium-sized gator. I also had concerns about getting a larger gator into my 15-foot duck boat we would be hunting from.

(story continued below)

Recipes

Everglades Gator Tail

Ingredients:

• Gator tail chunks

• Buttermilk

• Vegetable oil

• Everglades Pre-Seasoned All-Purpose Breader

Cooking Instructions:

After trimming the gator tail and removing all connective tissues, cut the meat into 2-inch chunks and wash, letting them soak in buttermilk for up to four hours in the refrigerator. Drain the buttermilk off, then coat chunks in Everglades Pre-Seasoned All-Purpose Breader. Lightly fry chunks in vegetable oil until golden brown. ENJOY!

Over the next few weeks I went on several frog-gigging trips in the specific area my tags would allow me to hunt gators. I let my son, Frank, run the boat as much as possible. Our 15-foot Alumacraft with a Mud Buddy motor is a bit of a challenge to drive at first, so I wanted to make sure he was comfortable.

While gigging, we made a note of spots where we found gators in the size range we wanted. We also kept track of areas where gators were more approachable, finding several spots in shallower water where gators seemed a little less threatened by the boat and lights.

After locating several likely spots, I purchased my son an Alligator Hunting Agent license, which allowed him to participate in the hunt. Without the agent license, he would only be legally allowed to run the boat or shine the light.

While both of us really wanted to use a crossbow to attach the initial dart in the gators, a crossbow was just not in the budget. We opted for harpoons and a bang stick to dispatch the gator before we brought it into the boat. Frank also found a gaff belonging to his great grandfather.

We waited with great anticipation for our week of gator season (the last of the 4 one-week seasons). That anticipation was even greater when we saw photos of Cole’s gators, as he was drawn for an earlier week than we were.

When our season finally arrived (the Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend), we felt like children on Christmas morning! We motored to our first spot and waited for it to get dark. Our plan was to try to motor up to the gators and then hit them with the harpoon equipped with a detachable dart on it that was attached to a rope, bleach bottle and then the boat. Our first spot had several gators, but most were smaller than we wanted. We did see a couple of bigger gators, but they dropped before we could get close.

We motored to another location and quickly located several gators. Frank approached one of them as I stood at the front of the boat, ready with the harpoon. The gator held tight as his eyes glowed from the reflection of our lights.

I hit him just behind the head and below his tough, scute-covered back as hard as I could with the harpoon. The line and float quickly followed the gator as it took off swimming. Lily pads became tangled in the line, now stretched taut by a gator on the other end!

Frank stopped the boat and held the light as I fumbled to get another dart on the harpoon. I wanted to get at least one more dart and line attached before I really fought the gator, because if it got off of my first line I would lose him.

Frank carefully pulled in the line until he could feel the gator, and we positioned ourselves so that when the gator surfaced, I would be able to get another dart in him. Frank pulled a little on the line, and a massive pile of weeds and lily pads came up. We could hear the gator hissing from underneath!

I was able to find his head and sunk another harpoon just below his jaw. With two lines attached, I proceeded to load our bang stick. I tried to discharge it in his head several times, but for some reason it wouldn’t fire. It may have been bad bullets (or maybe I was just shaking too much from the excitement). After a couple more failed attempts with the bang stick, I finally gaffed the gator and held it as Frank used his KA-BAR knife to sever the spinal cord from the brain.

After loading the gator into the boat, we understood what Cole had warned us about. This was exciting! As I attached my tag to the first gator, we guessed its length to be around 7 feet.

After a quick break, we swapped places, with me driving the boat and Frank manning the harpoon. Since he was out of school, and I did not have to work on Labor Day, we wanted to fill both of our tags that evening.

It did not take long before we found another spot with a gator that appeared to be about the same size as mine. As the boat approached, Frank buried the harpoon in its side. The line once again went tight as the gator sank.

Frank quickly put another dart on the harpoon. There were far less weeds and lily pads compared to where I had gotten my gator, so I was able to fairly easily pull Frank’s gator to the surface for a follow-up shot.

Frank put a second dart in his gator, and I gaffed it. Frank again pulled out his KA-BAR and quickly dispatched the gator. We loaded his lizard into the boat and discovered that almost one foot of his tail was missing, as if another gator had bitten it off in a fight.

Although our gators were about the same size, his was just a tad shorter due to the missing tail. We attached our last tag and motored back to the landing. After icing down the gators, we drove home for some sleep. The next morning, I cleaned my gator and Frank cleaned his. Neither of us were really sure of what to expect, but it went fairly well. We had both gators skinned and many bags of beautiful, white gator meat labeled in about 1-1/2 hours.

Now we were eager to try some. The first batch we fried using an egg wash and then rolled in flour. While it was pretty good, I felt like we could do better. The second batch, I used buttermilk wash and then Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish-Fri. While this was better (and a delicious recipe for fish), I still was not quite satisfied.

I decided to try the next batch with Everglades Pre-Seasoned All-Purpose Breader. As the saying goes, the third time’s the charm! Fried gator tail battered in Everglades Breader was incredible! I had a couple of friends over for dinner that evening, and everyone devoured the gator tail!

I plan to try the new Everglades Breader on shrimp and fish next.