Irmo gator hunter kills giant N. Santee River beast

Ryan Russell poses with the 12-foot, 4-inch gator he killed in the N. Santee River on Oct. 5, 2019.

Wasps, hornets, determined gator create an exhausting but rewarding hunt

On Oct. 5, Hunter Neeley and Crick Hooker, both of Chapin, helped Ryan Russell of Irmo fill his Pee Dee unit alligator tag. They headed to the tidal North Santee River around 10 p.m. on low tide. Neeley and Hooker had killed a 13+ footer at Santee a week earlier. After a wild hunt, Russell killed a 12-foot, 4-inch beast.

“It didn’t take too long to get on some decent ones. I spend a lot of time scouting so that I’ll know where some big ones are. I do a lot of bow fishing around there so I get to know the gators pretty good. This was Ryan’s second gator. His first one was around 9 1/2 foot, so he wanted something bigger,” Neeley said.

They spotted a few 10-footers, but Neeley was confident they could find some bigger ones. After looking for some time, the wind picked up pretty good.

“I knew where a few good ones were. With the wind, we decided the next good one was going to have to be the one we stick with,” he said.

They scouted out a slough but turned around after seeing only a small gator. Neeley eased the airboat along, passing by what they thought was about an 8 foot gator.

“Small gator” was actually larger than expected

“We got right to it, where you could pet his head off the bow of my boat. And suddenly I realized that it was way over 10,” he said. “We didn’t have a harpoon or anything ready. We were so surprised at its size that we didn’t have anything ready.”

The gator submerged and Russell began blind casting a treble hook. After many tries, he finally hooked it in water about 8 feet deep.

“We were in this slough and the bottom was covered in stumps and debris. There’s hornets and wasps all around us. We got another treble hook in him and that gator started swimming under every tree in the cove,” he said.

Russell’s gator put up a tough fight that involved hornets, wasps, busted buoy lines, and broken tree limbs.

After more than an hour of being pulled around by the gator, they tied two buoys to their lines. Finally, Neeley put a harpoon in it. Then things got interesting.

“All hell broke loose. He did not like that at all,” said Neeley.

The gator went on a run, snagging the two buoys on a floating tree that was about 20 feet long.

“He was dragging that tree around and I tried to put another harpoon in him. He took off and snapped the two buoys off. The lines popping sounded like a shotgun going off. He was just gone after that,” he said. “He had a harpoon with about 10 foot of line on it, but no buoy.”

Gator put up a valiant fight that involved flying insects and busted tree limbs

For about 90 minutes, the three hunters rode around in big circles, looking for any sign of the gator. Finally, Russell saw the string just below the surface of the water. Neeley snapped a carabiner with a buoy onto the loop in the line. Hooker got a hand line in the gator and attempted to bring it up.

“The gator didn’t like that so he took off again. He ran into the flooded timber and started doing circles through all these trees. Hornets and wasps are flying all around us. The airboat fan is blowing them out of the trees and then they’re flying to the lights on the boat and all around us,” he said.

Finally, the gator headed back to the open area of the cove and started rolling, slapping the boat with every roll.

“He just started doing a death roll. We were finally able to get him up beside the boat and Ryan popped him with one good shot. And that was it,” Neeley said.

This was the third 12+ foot gator Neeley and Hooker have either killed or guided others to kill in the past three weeks. They have killed numerous smaller gators too, and they have another hunt or two scheduled before the season ends. Then it will be time for Hooker to get to work creating mounts of the gators at Shearwater Taxidermy.

Click here to read about Buck Koon, Josh Koon, and Becca Bowen’s gator-killing adventures.

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About Brian Cope 2088 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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