What was touted as a weekend outing for a group of Spartanburg-area alligator hunters turned into a big adventure when the group of five men – Travis Smith and Tim Roth from Pauline, Scott Morin and Donald Caldwell from Woodruff and Chris Farrell from Boiling Springs – ended up harvesting a massive, 13-foot-3 alligator from Lake Moultrie on Sunday, Sept. 9. “We’ve done this for the last couple of years. It’s a good excuse to get away for the weekend. We certainly were not out trophy hunting,” said Travis Smith, who pinned his tag on the behemoth after a nearly 3-hour fight.
The weekend started out slowly for the party, which spent the first day-and-a-half cruising the waters around Black’s Camp on Santee Cooper’s Lake Moultrie in a pontoon boat in search of a harvestable-sized gator. After relocating to a “secret hole” on Sunday afternoon, Smith said the group was about 10 minutes away from giving up and making the long ride back to the Upstate.
“Every gator we saw was extremely skittish,” he said. “Sunday was an overcast day, and when the sun would come out, it seemed a lot of the gators would come up and sun, but anytime the boat would get close enough to one to make a cast, he’d go under.”
The group first saw the huge gator when it “came up off the bottom like a submarine” right in front of the boat. The crew began casting snag hooks to try to get a line attached to the gator, but the heavy aquatic growth in the small cove where they sighted it made getting a hook-up difficult.
“We finally got our hooks into him about an hour-and-a-half later, a little after 6 o’clock,” said Smith. “We fought him on just fishing lines for over two hours. He kept going back down and getting tangled in the hydrilla on the bottom. We just knew we were about to lose him.”
On the verge of giving up hope, Smith said the big gator popped back up directly in front of the boat, about 20 yards away. It was time for the bomb.
“We had a harpoon on board, and I just leaned way out and threw a Hail Mary with the harpoon. Fortunately, the harpoon stuck him pretty good in the side, and that was enough for us to get him to the boat,” he said.
After dispatching the animal, Smith recounts that it took four of them just to wrestle the gator up onto the front deck of the pontoon, and the massive load immediately bogged them down in the grass.
“It took us over 40 minutes to get unstuck and back to the ramp,” said Smith, “by then, it was after dark, and we hit a stump pretty hard just before we got him to the ramp.”
The next day, four members of the group who are employed at Spartanburg Meat Processing Co., found a set of calibrated truck scales and found that the big gator weighed 700 pounds. It didn’t take long for them to skin and package the gator and deliver the hide to the taxidermist.