Tyler Blanchette of Pomaria and Andrew Metze of Ballentine have applied for South Carolina gator hunting permits for several years, and finally got one for the 2017 season. All-around outdoorsmen who hunt and fish anything and everything that has a season in the Carolinas, they completed their quest, bagging an 11-foot, 5-inch lizard that tipped the scales at over 600 pounds.
But it wasn’t easy.
After launching Blanchette’s G3 aluminum boat from the 601 ramp on the Congaree River around Eastover on the afternoon of Sept. 9, they headed downriver. Not far from Sparkleberry Swamp, they began searching for a big gator to target.
“We’ve always heard that opening day is the best time to get one, because they smarten up real quick once a few are killed. So we were really hoping to find a good one,” Blanchette said.
After looking well past sunset and spotting only one or two small gators, they headed back toward the boat ramp, looked around on the Congaree River for a bit, then took the split onto the Wateree River a little discouraged.
“With the tropical storm coming, the water running so strong, and this being our first rodeo, we really didn’t know what to think. We thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen for us,” Blanchette said.
Their luck changed after 11 p.m. when Metze’s spotlight found a gator worth pursuing.
Metze lowered the trolling motor as Blanchette shut down the outboard. They began easing closer to the gator, but the current pushed them into a brush pile. The gator sank, and so did their spirits. Blanchette cranked the Mercury again, and found some slacker water close to where they’d last seen the gator’s eyes, and they dropped the trolling motor once more.
As Metze began searching the surface again with the spotlight, Blanchette saw, just a few feet from the trolling motor, the head of the gator.
And once Metze spotted the beast, he told Blanchette “shoot him!”
Blanchette drew back on the PSE Nova, aimed at the gator’s neck, and let fly an arrow that found pay dirt. Then things got exciting.
“It made the most God-awful splashing and rolling. In all the hunting I’ve done, it was definitely a unique adrenaline rush,” Blanchette said.
A buoy line was attached to the arrow, so now all the men had to do was follow the buoy, which the gator promptly pulled under the boat, then completely under the water.
“We could hear the buoy bounce against the bottom of the boat, then we saw it come out the other side. It bounced on the surface twice, then disappeared. At this point, we know we’re supposed to chase the buoy, but we couldn’t see the buoy to chase it,” he said.
After a few minutes of waiting, they decided to cruise upriver a little ways, then downriver, keeping close tabs on the spot they’d last seen the gator. Still, they saw no sign of the buoy.
Blanchette said they both began to feel a little sick to their stomachs. True hunters, they don’t mind killing anything that’s in season, but they can’t stand the thought of wounding an animal and leaving it to die a slow death all for naught.
After frantically looking up and down the river, then pulling into a thick line of willow trees full of wasp nests trying to catch a glimpse of the buoy, they decided to anchor down near the last place they saw the gator. From there, they began blind casting with rods and reels and big treble hooks.
After many casts, Metze hung his line on a submerged brush pile, and when Blanchette cranked the Mercury to free the snag, his headlamp caught sight of the buoy. Metze cut his line, grabbed the buoy, and cleated it to the boat.
Metze slowly pulled in the buoy line, inch by inch. The gator immediately headed into the same brush pile they had run into earlier. And after about an hour, Metze had gained back about half of the line. By now, he said the gator was doing nothing, and all he felt was dead weight. He wondered if the animal had given them the slip, and left them tangled in the brush pile.
Metze grabbed another treble hook tied to a nylon rope, tossed the treble in, and snagged something. Finally, they pulled the gator free of debris, saw his tail, and stuck another bow line in him. They slowly worked it in, and once Metze saw his chance, he stuck the gator’s head with a knife. They taped his mouth shut for good measure, and exchanged high-fives.
They’d finally killed the beast, but now they couldn’t pull its 600+ pound body into the boat, so they slowly made their way back to the ramp where they used the trailer’s boat winch to hoist the gator into place and headed home where they skinned and cleaned it.
“I feel like we were really lucky. I’ve heard the horror stories of people sticking a big gator, then losing it. We would both still be sick if that had happened to us. We were tired and worn out, but it was all worth it. I’m glad we didn’t give up looking,” Blanchette said.