Gator hunting

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

Father and son team Briggs and Dan Smith pull a 6-foot alligator from the Pascagoula River Swamp September 29 in the first authorized hunt ever held in the swamp. Photo submitted

Smith found new season in the swamp – gator hunting

By Rita Howell

Dan Smith hunted deer and duck in the woods of North Mississippi as he was growing up in Batesville. The son of Dot and Briggs Smith, he has since moved with his family to Ocean Springs, where a hunting season of a different sort has opened up this year.

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In the Pascagoula River Swamp, it’s alligator season.

“I’d never seen an alligator in the wild,” he explained by phone this week. “I’d only seen them in the Memphis zoo. When they opened up the lottery, I entered my name.”

Alligator season only lasted two weekends, and Dan was selected to hunt in the first one, September 28-29. About 500 people applied for the permits, with only 80 names drawn, 40 for each weekend.

It was the first official hunt ever held in the Pascagoula Swamp.

After he was notified he’d won the gator lottery,  Dan took a five-hour course mandated by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for all alligator hunters.

Then he got together his “team:” a buddy from Ocean Springs and Briggs.

“Officially, all I was supposed to do was hold the light,” Briggs said.

He ended up a more active participant when the third member of the party had to bow out of the Saturday night hunt because he’d promised to take his wife dancing.

The hunting takes place from 6 p.m. to midnight, when the animals are feeding in the water and swimming around.

The hunters use a powerful light beam to locate the alligators, whose eyes reflect red or yellow when the beam hits them.

“You can’t really tell how big they are until you get close to them,” Briggs said.

The procedure involves lassoing the animal, then getting it “under control” by securing its jaws shut. Only then do the hunters shoot the animal, then take it to the game warden for measuring and weighing.

The Smiths had a steel lasso on the end of an 8-foot pole, with a 20-foot rope attached to pull the lasso.

Briggs was navigating the boat and pulled it to within four feet of the alligator whose eyes they’d spotted. Dan slid the noose around the animal’s nose and head, causing a violent reaction as it flipped, twisted and fought for several minutes.

They were able to secure it and shoot it, and then took it to the game warden for checking and tagging. The gator was 6’4’’ and weighed 56 pounds.

It felt a lot heavier, according to Dan.

“There are people who catch catfish in Sardis Lake that weigh a lot more than that,” he laughed. “But an alligator is so powerful.”

The best meat on a gator is on the tail, Briggs said.

He brought home a small portion, and left the rest of the meat with Dan, who doesn’t know when he might win another gator hunt lottery, but plans to enter for the next 30 years.