After scoring a tag for the 2017 South Carolina alligator season, David Birgerson of Sumter, SC and his wife Susan couldn't wait to get on the water to fill it. Despite a disappointing first night, they rallied back the next, and left Santee with a 12-foot, 1-inch alligator estimated to weigh just under 800 pounds.
Birgerson and his wife have been on a number of hunts in Florida and taken their fair share of gators. But, this is their biggest to date and it didn't come easy. After spotting a monster on their first attempt in this area known locally as “the hatchery” in Clarendon County, their trolling motor was rendered useless thanks to a faulty battery charger, preventing them from sealing the deal.
But, the sighting gave them high hopes for the next night. An hour before dark on Sept. 17 they entered the water via a makeshift boat ramp, and saw promising activity right away.
“We saw three decent sized gators in the first 10 minutes,” said Birgerson. “We saw one about 10 to 10½ feet around 9:30 and I decided to cast. I had him hooked for about 30 seconds, but the hook came out.”
Later, Susan spotted an enormous gator and they trolled in that direction. Within 80 yards of their target, it submerged, but Birgerson kept the heading and they waited 30 minutes for it to resurface. When it did, it was 10 feet from the boat.
“When he saw the boat, he turned inside out,” said Birgerson. “He boiled an area 12 feet in diameter and took off into a slough in the corner of the lake. We decided to go back there and run along the edge of the grass to try and run him out.”
Forty-five minutes later, they spotted a gator, but they knew it wasn't the beast they had just encountered. They began trolling to check it out when Susan spotted the one they were after and Birgerson headed to cut him off. Once in casting range, Susan lit the gator up with a spotlight and he cast the 12/0 weighted treble hook.
“I cranked two times, felt it hit him, rared back and laid it to him,” said Birgerson. “He took off and immediately started ripping drag off the reel. He didn't do much slowing down and ended up pulling the boat pretty good.”
An hour later, they were over the gator, and bubbles came up from the bottom. Birgerson advised Susan to ready the harpoon. She deftly slammed the dart and the gator pulled the rope and the attached buoy overboard while simultaneously pulling a hundred yards of line from the reel.
They followed the buoy and began pulling the gator up. The line from the rod became tangled with the harpoon rope, threatening to pull the rod overboard. Birgerson handed his wife the rope and cut the line to the rod. She pulled it in while Birgerson grabbed his bang stick and prepared to plant a Gator Pro .44 magnum bullet under the hard plate of the gator’s head. But, the gator surged, and Birgerson’s bullet hit below the kill spot. Susan began pulling the rope for another try, but the dart came free.
Panic struck the Birgersons. But, they watched the gator swim into a nearby grass patch. Susan lit up the area with the spotlight and easily found it. Birgerson sunk the dart again and they went for another sleigh ride.
With the gator tiring, Susan pulled it to the surface and Birgerson fired what he thought was the perfect shot. But, as he began to tape the jaws shut — they opened.
“I reloaded the bang stick and gave it to Susan,” said Birgerson. “She hit him again and smoke actually came out of his mouth. You could hear him gurgling and I knew she had just shut him off.
“We crashed in the seats of the boat and celebrated.”
The Birgersons towed the gator back to the landing and used the boat trailer to lift it from the water. They then went home for a utility trailer, winched the gator on, and transported it to a processor.