Gators in the 'Glades

Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West is part of a massive system of filtration marshes designed to improve the Florida Everglades' water quality. Every canal that rings the marshes is full of huge gators. From left, Laura Woody, Michelle Woody, Tom McWatters, Jerry Krenz, Terry Gibson and Dombrowski wait for legal hunting hours. As the water management district official in charge of recreational access, Krenz has been instrumental in working with activists such as Dombrowski to open these marshes for gator and duck hunts.Outdoor Life Online Editor
In September of 2008, the South Florida Water Management District (District) and Florida Sportsman Conservation Association (FSCA) invited Outdoor Life to participate in a gator hunt on Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West, 6,670 of more than 50,000 acres Forget ducks and buffalo, the story of the restoration of the American alligator is arguably America's greatest conservation success story and our greatest symbol of conservation success and hope for the future. Thanks to cooperation between the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), and sporting advocacy groups such as the Florida Sportsman Conservation Association (FCSA), restored, water-filtering wetlands associated with Everglades Restoration have become phenomenal recreational resources, for duck hunting, gator hunting, bird watching and more.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Every inch between the tip of a gator's snout and the space between his eyes translates to one foot of mean lizard. This one is an easy 10-footer.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Sisters Woody battle a 9-footer. Laura, (background) is ready with the harpoon, which is attached to a rope and is used to "put a leash" on the gator in order to bangstick it.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Mark and Michelle celebrate the night's first gator, a 9-foot, 7-inch bull. Mark had severed the gator's spinal cord before this photo was taken.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Tom calls this outfit his "canal rifle," a mildly disparaging term generally used for cane poles. He can heave that snatch hook more than 100 yards, accurately. He was instrumental in getting a second or third hook in gators that evening. Usually, a hook bends or pulls if you only have one in a big lizard.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Hunting from the bank, you really don't want a gator coming in head first. This one was hooked behind the ear, so there was no choice. The gator had already bitten one harpoon in half. Joe Dombrowski gets ready for a showdown.Outdoor Life Online Editor
This 9-foot, 5-inch gator is about to take a .357 magnum at point blank range. The bullet didn't penetrate the skull. It only concussed the critter. Never look at the gator when the bangstick goes off- gristle, lead, water and blood fly everywhere.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Always, always cut the spinal column- after wrapping the jaws in electrical tape. The bangstick isn't the Coup de grace.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Slimy leather and dead weight.Outdoor Life Online Editor
They can break your femur with one chomp. But that's nothing compared to the infection. This is arguably the most dangerous type of hunting there is.Outdoor Life Online Editor
It's 2 a.m. The adrenaline is subsiding, everyone's exhausted, and there's still the 30-mile trip to the gator processor. Since Mark and Tom had the permits, they decided to sell the hides but keep the meat. Gator bites are delicious fried, but break out the tenderizer. Special thanks to Jerry Krenz and the South Florida Water Management District's staff and governing board for allowing these hunts, and getting people enthused about restoring the Everglades.Outdoor Life Online Editor

Outdoor Life Fishing Editor Terry Gibson spends a night in the Everglades with some of the most dangerous critters on earth.