Recent hunt leads to Robins record

  • Published
  • By Brian Shreve
  • Robins Public Affairs
When most people think of alligator hunting, they probably don't picture an area known for golfing - in the middle of a bustling military installation no less.  

But that's exactly what happened the night of Sept. 18 at Duck Lake, as a hunting party organized by Dr. Bob Sargent, base natural resources manager, went out in search of the animal known for its teeth, magnetism and occasional appearance in the wrong places.  

And he was a big fella.

A 12-footer weighing in at roughly 450 pounds, the alligator was the largest Sargent said he had ever seen on base.  

"We intended to find a 9-foot alligator, so this one surprised us," he said. "I know some people may be alarmed to find out there was a 12-foot gator in that area. The fact is it's rare to have one that large on base. Larger ones are usually only seen in areas non-accessible to the public, such as in fence-enclosed retention ponds.  

Alligators this large are always males, and they're known to travel over a substantial area during the warm months of the year, so it's possible that this Duck Lake animal just moved into that lake," he added. "We want to make sure people are safe and that large alligators fear taking up residence in base recreational areas. This is just a reminder that alligators can be present in any large bodies of water in southern Georgia."

The group also included Barry White, a base employee, Staff Sgt. Joshua Hodges, who teaches the base hunter safety course, and Tom Hutcheson of Sandersville, Ga., who actually got the kill-shot using a .44-caliber bangstick.

A bangstick is a specialized firearm used underwater that is fired when in direct contact with the target. They are often used for spear fishing and against sharks or alligators for sport, defense, or to kill nuisance animals. 

Though the other men are licensed alligator hunters, Hutcheson had to kill the animal because he was issued a quota permit by the state. In June each year hunters apply online for the document, but it typically takes about three years to be selected due to the large number of applicants and relatively small number of permits issued.  

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources issues 850 permits each year for alligators to be harvested below the Fall Line stretching from Augusta to Columbus. Houston County and 11 neighboring counties lie within one of nine zones in the region. For this zone, 70 quota permits were issued in 2014.  

"Most of the state's alligators live below that line," said Sargent. "Realistically about 30 percent of that quota is actually harvested each year."

The base first authorized alligator hunting last year, with rules being slightly more conservative than those of the state, such as the requirement to sign a liability waiver and a prohibition against using handguns as hunting tools. 

Sargent also asks that gator-hunting take place at night due to the traffic of the workday, and he specifies where hunters can and can't hunt. 

The 12-footer marks the second alligator hunted and killed on base, the first being a nine-foot animal taken last year.

"For hunting season, I have provided information to the public making them aware to contact me if they receive a quota permit for Houston County," said Sargent, because we may have a large alligator on base that's not compatible with human activities. We don't want very large animals occupying places frequented by fishermen or people walking their dogs. Odds are there would be no conflict, but it's risk management for sure."

Alligator hunting season opens the first week of September each year and runs through the first week of October.  

Along for his second hunt in as many years, Hodges said the state doesn't allow hunting them with rifles, and that alligators must first be corralled using a crossbow or harpoon with a line attached before the fatal shot.

"Anybody can shoot a gator from far off, and it'd sink and you'd never find it," he said. "He was so strong. When he went down he stayed down over an hour. I might as well have had a line attached to my truck. He wasn't moving unless he wanted to move."

Once designated as an endangered species, hunting alligators in Georgia has been legal since 2003 - not only from a recreational standpoint, but in an effort to control population growth and minimize potential conflict with people.  

The GDNR estimates there are up to 230,000 alligators in the state.  As for Duck Lake, Sargent said there are three or four small to medium-sized alligators remaining, and his office is "keeping tabs on them."

"Just respect them as part of the wilds of Georgia," he said. "They're shy by nature and usually only a problem when people feed or harass them, which is a violation of federal and state law."

Sargent said anyone who sees an alligator on    base should not approach it but should call him at (478) 327-3974.