Please forgive me for the lack of pictures since my camera was lost/stolen. the pics/videos below were courtesy of my friend Vince who took them and was kind enough to courier them to me.
After many months of anticipation, i finally landed in Florida. What brings you here sir? they asked me at the customs.
"should I say hunting?" I thought to myself.
"cant take any chances" I thought. Having been bitten by many people who have anti-hunting sentiments had made me twice shy.
"Miami beach of course", I told the lady. BINGO Right answer. "Welcome to the United States; Have a pleasant stay".
Good. Now to get to the lodge. The public transport in the USA isn't like the UK, plus the 'gas' is really quite cheap so everyone drives. Good. So get a car then but one problem, cant find the car rental counter in the airport.
WHAT In heathrow we have the car rental counter (in fact two of them) right next to arrivals. Cant believe it such a big airport and no car rentals.
We ask people but they point us to mixed directions. No boards indicating a car rental counter. I am cursing these people. How does one travel then?
I go to the ground floor and there are some numbers next to a phone for car companies. A security guy comes and says "Sir may ask what you are doing? Why are you calling car rental companies from here?"
That's all I need. Don't tell me i need to have a "random search".
But it seems i read too much newspapers.
He continued, "why are you calling the rental companies from here? Why don't you take the free shuttle to the rental terminal? The boarding point is 30 yards away from here. "
"Free shuttle to the what?"
"The rental car terminal" they have all the car companies there.
WOW this is America . A separate terminal for car rental. And i was comparing it to the measly 2 counters we have at heathrow.
So we get to the terminal for rental cars. Dozens of companies with total of thousands of cars available instantly (more if you want to wait).
So i choose an economical car. Nothing flashy. I'm not too fond of cars anyways.
After getting into the wrong side twice (left hand vs rt. hand drive in the USA/UK), I finally start for the hunting camp.
I spend the night in a Town called Okeechobee.Throughout the town, a common theme is Alligators. Restaurants serve gator steak, there are gator spotting tours. Gator teeth pendants, hat bands, gator hide cowboy boots in stores. Gator taxidermy heads for sale on roadside as souvenirs.
Lots of businesses starting with Gator.
The second theme was rodeo. Stores selling posters of rodeo heroes (whom i didn't recognise). Many had macho tag lines relating to rodeo. for eg: who cares about a collapsed lung? All I need is 8 seconds of air. And underneath is a macho cowboy.
Or with another cowboy who could be the first cowboy's dad and who looks -if that were possible- more macho than the young one saying "Who needs gym when you can pull your own body weight?"
The hotel staff enquire what brings a person like me (Indian , settled in UK) to this backwater sleepy town whose idea of tourists is people who attend the farmers tractor fair.
"hunting gators" I tell them before i can stop myself (must be the jet lag). I'm jet lagged but I am ready to defend hunting expecting to hear the usual reactions I get.
"how wonderful" The receptionist says."You have come to the right place. We have many gators around. Hope you have a nice hunt".
Did I hear her correctly? Anyways, I'm tired and need a good nights seep.
Next morning after a hearty breakfast, I'm having coffee. The chef comes to me and starts chatting and asks what I'm doing there. Emboldened by the previous nights response,i tell her I'm there to hunt gator. She starts saying how her husband is a hunter and how they need more hunters as there are more gators than humans in the sunshine state and how boars are a menace and need to be hunted more than what they are being now.
I then go to Walmart to buy the hunting license. There are 3 full aisles of hunting goods.There are guns on display in glass cupboards but the the shotgun ammo and airguns are kept on open shelves. I buy some hunting/shooting accessories too.
Finally I go to the camp and we are driven to the backwaters of the lake Okeechobee.
How would you like to hunt the gator? I'm asked by the guide.
How are there many ways? I ask.
Rifle or bangstick.
Now what people do is snare it, pull it till it is right next to the boat (2 feet away) and then hit it with a bangstick in public waters or with a rifle in private land. (Rifle not allowed in public hunts).
Bangstick is a stick with a mechanism at the end that holds a .44/.45 calibre handgun bullet or a 12 bore LG shell which goes off when it comes in contact with anything (a gators head, for example).
I DID NOT want to shoot it after it is snared. I wanted to hunt it with a rifle.
"sure" said the guide. Then proceeded as to why many clients do not use rifles:
As you are aware, even the biggest croc/gator has a walnut sized brain.
If it is swimming, one has to ensure instant death else it will dive and be lost for ever since no one will go to retrieve a carcass in bloodied gator infested swamp.
So it has to hit the brain precisely ie 2.5-3 inch behind the eye in the flat. Anywhere else and you lose the gator.
I wanted to wait unseen till a big'un is visible, then try to stalk close as possible and then shoot it.
Now the reason for stalking to 40-50 yards is so that the guide and team can run towards it as quickly as possible, then lasso it as quickly as possible because soon the other gators come in for the free dinner.
Also, gators don't get big by being dumb so the big 'uns don't take chances and scatter off on seeing us humans.
Having heard this, I was even more insistent on hunting with a rifle and stalking it.
So we go the edge of the backwater. There are gator tracks visible. They show me gator tracks and discuss sizes looking at the tracks.
"We cant let them see us" says the guide. So we lie in some tall grass/clump of trees and wait. I tell my friend not to come with me since i don't want too many people. More chances of someone moving or making a mistake. (Later I regret as my shot isn't captured on his camera and I realise this after I lose mine.)
Anyways I have my "petrol" (pepsi) with me so am ok with waiting. Various gators are swimming by. Now the most important thing a guide can do besides retrieving it for you is to tell you the approx size just by looking at the eyes of a swimming gator (the rest is not visible).
"This one is 5 feet" .
"no" I say.
"see there that's 7 feet"
"lets wait for a bigger one".
Casey the guy with a guide and I are talking in whispers. I learn he is the local rodeo champ and so I know he is strong as a bronco.
"What are you eating Casey?", I ask.
"Ah chewing tobacco" he says.
"Oh" I say. I don't smoke, let alone tobacco.
"Its apple flavoured" he ventures. Somehow my non interest is read as curiosity by Casey. He admits the reason he isn't offering it to me is that it is really strong and that some clients in the past have thrown up having tried it. And the boss doesn't like clients having a bad experience.
"Its a man's tobacco. Strong" he jokes.
That gets me. "gimme some Casey"
"are you sure"?
"sure. I am a heavy smoker" I lie. "tried cigars and all" Just gave up a few weeks ago.
"All right then", he says. "you can have some but not much. If you feel pukish, spit everything out. Do not fight it".
"Yeah right", I think. "Casey is just pulling my leg". I put the tobacco in my mouth and my lord
It was like being in a centrifuge machine
"how is it?" asks Casey.
"not too strong" I say while thinking "man whats this? is it some drug? how can tobacco do this to anyone?"
Luckily I don't throw up. He tells me to spit out the saliva and not swallow it.
"THERE HE IS" the guide pokes me.
"Who" I ask. Then I remember we are lying in wait for a gator.
"I mean where" I say trying not to sound embarrassed.
"right there" he whispers. God, of all the times. I do hope my head stops spinning and my eyes watering. I spit out all the tobacco and try to look....... Nothing.
"I cant see him" I say. He cant point towards the gator since its too much movement. "Look 1 foot left of the tree. Do you see the branch? look 2 feet above it. See the black spot? That's him."
Then I see him. Swimming ever so slowly.Just his eye visible.
How big is he? I ask.
"Well he gotta be at least 10 feet".
Are you sure? I ask. To me the eyes don't look too big.
"Yessir, thats your gator." Take your time and remember to hit him in the flat behind the eye."
when told this one was a big'un, and knowing i couldn't miss even by a few centimetres, i got "gatorfever".
God this isn't my rifle. Haven't even fired it.
"don't worry he says" its very accurate. Its zeroed to 50 yards so will be flat to 60 (approx dist of the gator). Don't worry about the hold". Here use my fishing pole, hold it with your left hand. Use your leftwrist to rest your gun and fire."
Crikey. Ive never fired a gun in this position.What if I miss?
Someone in my mind tells me. "shooter get rid of these silly thoughts; you can see the flat, put the crosshair there and shoot".
Some how I know Ill hit it. So I ask them "I hope This .243 70 grainer wont spoil the trophy"
"Dont worry about the trophy.The taxidermist will fix it. Just make sure you get the brain"
Luckily this discussion helps the Adrenaline flow through and I am calm(er) now.
I put the crosshair 2 inches behind the eye and in the recoil itself, could see the gator belly up .the shot went home and you can see the gator turned over belly up in the video. Instant death within one second.
Hence the background voices of "good shot" in the video.
The pic of the Gator:
The rifle used was a remington 700 with 70 grain factory ammo.
It shows the time immediately after the shot when they are dragging the dead gator out of the water and as 'warned' by other hunters, i was asked if i would like to help.
We are dragging the gator out of the water.
As you can see, despite being dead and the buoyancy, it takes 2 to just drag him out. (One of whom is Casey the rodeo champ)
it took 5 to haul it in the truck.
in the beginning you can see me emerge from the right with a remi700 slung on my shoulder. i was behind the bushes.
furthur in the video, you can hear me saying 'i got buck fever in the beginning'.