South Florida hunting guide Daniel Townsend knew that a big alligator lived near a certain canal off a big cypress swamp. He had seen the large gator hole before on the 40,000-acre tract of land that he guides on near the town of LaBelle, located between Ft. Myers and Lake Okeechobee. Townsend also knew that the oversized reptile was smarter, and much older, than your average gator.
“We’d been trying to get that gator for some years,” says Townsend, age 25, who runs Townsend & Sons Everglades Outfitters. “He was a problem [because] he was smart. He’d killed and eaten some of the cattle on the ranch, and he had to go. But it wasn’t easy. I guided a hunter just a week before we got the gator, and the hunter missed him clean—which made the gator even tougher to kill.”
On Mar. 7, Townsend was guiding visiting Texas hunter Mike Smith, 57, for Osceola turkeys. When Smith mentioned he’d like to try and take a big alligator during his trip, Townsend knew just the one to try for. So the following afternoon, when the sun was high over the water, he figured the big gator would be out soaking up some rays near his den on the canal.
“We had to get the wind right, and stalk slowly and quietly up to the spot where we could see if the gator was out,” Townsend says. “We parked our truck, and quietly walked about 200 yards to where we could see the canal.”
He explains that using the wind to their advantage was necessary to keep the gator from smelling the hunters. They also wanted stay out of earshot, as gator’s have excellent hearing and will spook at the slightest noise.
“We got about 100 yards away from his cave, and we spotted his head up on the canal bank as he was laying in the sun,” says Townsend.
Using shooting sticks to steady his rifle, Smith squeezed off a shot.
“The shot was perfect,” says Townsend. “The bullet hit the gator right behind the eye, [went] in its ear hole and into the brain.”
The gator died instantly and rolled back into the canal. Using a rod and reel, they snagged the beast and pulled it to shore, where they wrapped a rope around its tail and hauled it out with a tractor. The gator measured 12-feet, 1-inch in length, and weighed well over 500 pounds, Townsend says. He estimates the gator was at least 60 years old.
Townsend says that his outfitting business is a family-owned operation, with cousins and other extended family members helping out as guides. Townsend’s cousin Clay Daniels, from Marathon in the Florida Keys, occasionally guides for him. Daniels and his girlfriend recently guided a gator hunter who shot a 120-pound, 8-footer, which the young lady loaded onto her shoulders and lugged back to their truck.
“But we got a lot of old, big gators,” Townsend says. “And plenty of wild turkeys, wild hogs, and other game and fish too.”