Valdosta Daily Times

October 13, 2013

For the Love of the Sport

A tale of hunting Alligator

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

QUITMAN — Debbie Southerland of Brooks County was one of 140 in Georgia’s Zone Two to receive an alligator tag this past August. Southerland chose Zone Two because she wanted to hunt on Lake Seminole because it has a history of harboring large alligators.

Although she is an avid hunter, Southerland has never hunted alligator. She had been interested in an alligator hunt since 2007, but in 2008, after reading an article about a state record alligator kill on Lake Blackshear in Georgia Outdoor News she knew for certain she wanted to hunt alligators.

On average, an alligator hunter will receive one tag every four years, Southerland said. Everybody told her to hire a hunting guide, so after she received her tag, she called a guide who specializes in Georgia’s Zone Two.

The guide would have taken Southerland hunting, but could not promise her an alligator. Southerland decided to hunt for alligator without a guide.

“I wanted to feel the sense of accomplishment. I was worried that the guide would receive most of the credit, and not me.”

So Southerland called the guide to let him know she was going on the hunt without him, and he replied, “Well, good luck,” Southerland said.

Southerland added, “We showed him.”

Georgia’s 2013 alligator season was from Sept. 7 to Oct. 6. Southerland began her hunt on Sept. 13. Spending two consecutive weeks on Lake Seminole, she left empty handed.

On the third weekend, Southerland, Tim Sanford, her fiancé, and Nick Baker, her friend, spent 12 to 14 hours of Friday and Saturday on the lake. All day they were attempting to catch some 8- to 10-foot alligators.

It was around 2 p.m., Sept. 28, as Southerland was about to fall asleep ... when she turned, and to her surprise there was a large alligator that surfaced for air.

The head of this alligator was huge, and Southerland said, “Please Lord, bless our hunt, with this gator!”

It took her three casts to hook the alligator with a salt water rod and reel. Once hooked, the alligator dove to the bottom. Southerland spent the next 30 minutes throwing another hook, attached to a rope, dragging the bottom of the lake. It took 15 tries to snag the alligator.

At this point, the alligator was pretty much caught, but Southerland said Georgia law requires the alligator to be 100 percent caught before it can be killed. So Southerland had two harpoons with eight-foot-long wooden rods and dowels, but the alligator was too far away to harpoon.

The alligator surfaced for air a third time, and Baker hit the alligator with the harpoon.

Pulling the alligator closer to the 16-foot boat, Southerland jabbed the alligator with the other harpoon. At this point the alligator was 100 percent caught. They dragged it beside the boat, and Southerland shot it five times in the head, behind the eyes, with a pistol. The alligator was still blinking and breathing, so she reloaded, and shot him two more times, killing the alligator.

Southerland’s alligator was 140 inches, and weighed 480 pounds on certified scales. The Department of Natural Resources reports that 1,077 alligators were harvested from 2003 to 2012, and the average length was 100 inches.

“I go (hunting) for the relaxation. It gets you out in nature. It’s the best way to relax and unwind,” Southerland said.

She eats the meat, and shares it with family. Southerland doesn’t kill things just to kill, but she loves the thrill of the hunt.

“I never once dreamed I would get a gator this big,” Southerland said.

Instead of residing on the bottom of a lake, the alligator is now mounted on Southerland’s wall.