Gator hunting, Loon-style

Funny thing is, you can't eat the alligators caught in the southern Glades. They're contaminated by poisonous mercury. So when I order a deliciously greasy basket full of fried alligator nuggets and frog legs before going to hunt, Kennon tells me they're shipped in from a farm in Sebring, Florida. Then he grabs a huge gator head that's mounted on the wall and clutches it.

"This one was 74 years old when I killed him. He was 15 feet long and weighed 1,400 pounds." He places the epic head on a table in front of us. "Someone had shot this particular gator from long range and broke his nostril, so he couldn't submerge and feed under water or he'd drown. Therefore, he had to feed along the shoreline, so he became a nuisance. Otherwise, something this big, I wouldn't kill. I'd be more interested in seeing how big and old he'd get. But, because of humans, he became a dangerous animal." He pauses for a moment and stares down at his trophy. "He could've probably taken down a cow."

Staring into this dead gator's huge, black, marble eyes, I freeze like Kennon's old boss in the presence of a pissed-off bear. We're about to mount an airboat to catch, with our bare hands, a descendant of the dinosaurs. Kennon holds up what he considers to be the most important tool in catching the king of the reptiles — a roll of electrical tape.

Has he been sampling magic mushrooms?

"You'd be surprised. Sometimes a gator may not be as dead as you think it is. Although you just shot it in the head, you may just have paralyzed it; the bullet can go off to the side just a little bit. So, always tape his mouth."

Yeah, OK. Sure.

"A friend of mine, a trapper agent for many years for the state, got a call off Alligator Alley that a gator had been run over. When he found it, the head was pretty much smashed, so he threw it in the truck and drove home. When he opened the camper shell, the damn gator jumped at him, almost getting him in the head. Today he has about six holes right up his arm."

A few minutes later, Kennan, his son Doyle, and I are zipping through sawgrass on an airboat in the dark. Then we stop. Kennon, who's wearing a hat mounted with a high-beam flashlight, points to something in the water. "See those red glowing eyes?" he asks.

I can't see a thing. He rushes to the edge of his boat and scoops up a baby gator — no more then eight inches long. He places the tiny creature in my hand, showing me how to wrap my thumb around its neck so it doesn't nip.

"Mama's probably nearby."

And she is. He hands me the hat with the light and we ride the boat alongside her. Kennon catches her with his wire noose. Then we trap her body under the boat, and he restrains her massive jaw with another noose, this one made of rope.

"She's starting to spin," Kennon says, voice rising slightly. He yells to Doyle, a middle-aged man with a bushy white beard and thick black eyebrows, who comes to help. As the two men try to halt the reptilian whirlpool, Kennon barks to me:

"Keep the light in her eyes!"

A thousand mosquitoes buzz by, perch on my nose, and bite my cheeks. The men slip the noose around the gator's jaw and pull it closed. Then they lift her from the water and place her on the boat. Doyle mounts her as Kennon wraps her mouth with electrical tape.

As the gator jerks about, Kennon looks up at me and questions, "How's that for a rush?"

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