Four hunters from Indiana got the full Everglades experience last week on a two-day trip in the South Florida swamps. One of the hunters, Eric Hinderliter, tagged an alligator more than twice his size after an intense game of tug-of-war that had him in and out of the water. The gator was over 12 feet long and weighed around 600 pounds.
The group arrived at Townsend & Sons Outfitters near LaBelle, Florida, on Feb. 10. They met up with owner Daniel Townsend that afternoon and let him know they all had giant alligators on their minds.
“We all wanted big gators in the 10-foot class,” says Hinderliter, a 37-year-old construction company owner from New Harmony, Indiana. “But we learned from Townsend that the day before we got there, they’d shot an 11-footer and they saw an even bigger gator. And that’s the one I told Daniel I wanted.”
Townsend informed Hinderliter that big gators are spooky. He recommended the group stay away from where the large gator was spotted, which would give it time to settle down. Townsend sent them to another corner of the 40,000-acre property.
“We hunted other places on the ranch and my buddies got a pair of 9-footers, and a 9.5-foot alligator,” Hinderliter tells Outdoor Life. “Plus, we shot some wild hogs that are just everywhere down there.
By that time, Townsend had already slipped into the area where the giant gator was seen the day before. He crept a little closer, casted out a weighted 5/0 hook, and carefully snagged the huge reptile. Then he went to get Hinderliter and crew, and he brought them all back to help finish the job.
“Daniel handed me a heavy-duty saltwater spinning rod spooled with 150-pound test braided line with the hooked gator, and said, ‘Here’s your gator, reel him in,” Hinderliter says. “I cranked the reel as hard as I could, but nothing happened. I thought I was hooked to a sunken stump or log because I never budged it—it didn’t move at all.”
Townsend had him cast out a second line, and they soon had another hook in the gator. Hinderliter then felt what it was like to be hooked to an alligator twice his size. The giant gator pulled both men into the water on its first run. After scrambling back to shore and cranking with all their might, Townsend and Hinderliter slowly worked it toward the water’s edge.
At this point, Hinderliter was given a large harpoon with a detachable head affixed to a rope and a float. He handed his rod off to one of his friends, waded back into the water, and got ready to stick the alligator as soon as it surfaced. When he did, the gator went berserk, pulling the detachable head off the harpoon handle and swimming for deeper water. Hinderliter grabbed the rope, and with three stout lines in the gator, the hunters eventually hauled the big gator close to shore. Hinderliter dispatched it with two shots to the head.
The only way they could get the dead gator out of the water was by using the winch on their ATV. After dragging it onto dry land, they took some pictures of the 12-foot, 1-inch, gator, which Townsend estimated at around 600 pounds. He also guessed it was around 60 to 80 years old.
“The tale of my gator has been a family hit,” Hinderliter says. “My 5-year-old son Ty was so excited about the photo of me lying beside the gator that he made a look-alike gator from boxes and made a photo of himself lying beside it, too.”
Alligator Hunting Methods in Florida
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission allows hunters to harvest alligators using a number of different methods. Almost all these methods involve using sharp points to snag or “snatch” the alligator. These include spears, bows, spearguns, crossbows, hand-lines with snatch hooks, and harpoons. Hunters can also legally use fishing rods rigged with artificial lures or weighted treble hooks. Baited hooks are prohibited.
“All points used in the above methods of take must be attached to a restraining line. [They] should be capable of fully penetrating an alligator’s thick hide and won’t come out when you pull back against the alligator,” state regulations dictate. “Explosive or drug-injecting tips are not allowed.”