They killed a 12-foot, 7-inch gator a week earlier
Hunter Neeley of Chapin is known to his friends as the Gator Hunting Legend, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s been hunting the beasts since South Carolina first began having a season, and he’s been involved in many kills, including numerous big ones.
He’s killed, or guided hunts, for several gators over 12-feet in length this season alone, including a 13-foot, 6 1/2-inch gator he killed on Sept. 29. That big lizard hunt was a week after a 12+ footer that he guided a friend to killing.
On Sept. 20, Neeley guided for long-time family friend Mike Hoffman. Hoffman drew his first ever gator tag this season. They were joined by Neeley’s dad Tommy Neeley, who was on his first ever gator hunt, and Crick Hooker, owner of Shearwater Taxidermy. This hunt was at Santee, and produced a 12-foot, 7-inch gator.
“We hunted on the lower lake, and had been scouting some gators all year and knew where some big ones were. We chased a 13-footer for about two hours, but it disappeared. So we went after another one we’d seen throughout the night. We thought it was about an 11-footer but it turned out to be much bigger,” said Neeley.
One big gator leads to another
Hoffman got a treble hook in the 12+ footer with a rod and reel. Shortly after, Neeley also hooked the reptile with another treble hook.
“That gave us a chance to get some harpoons in him. Then we were able to get him up beside the boat and we shot him,” said Neeley.
A week later, Neeley decided it was time to fill his own tag. He and Hooker went back to the same spot on Santee Cooper’s lower lake with the 13-footer in mind. The two did some scouting around 6 p.m. Neeley’s girlfriend Katelon Smith joined them later.
“We got on an 11-footer and played around with it for a couple of hours, but never was able to get very close to it. Then we went and picked up (Katelon) around 10 p.m. Then around 10:30, we found the 13+ footer,” he said.
Neeley said the big gator was tucked into a cove, unlike the many other times he’d seen this gator throughout the season.
Perseverance pays off
“I think because of the wind, he was tucked up into a little cove. It was windy and the water was white capping. It was probably blowing 15 to 20 miles an hour. When we saw him, he ran from my airboat. And I found a dust trail where he’d blown out from where he was. So I followed the dust trail,” he said.
The gator led them out into open water, where waves were coming over the front of the boat as the trio followed the creature. They lost sight of it for long enough to get interested in another set of eyes they’d spotted close to the bank. But then Hooker saw their original target again.
“I got a treble hook in it and Crick got a treble in at immediately after. Then for about 30 minutes, he had us on the run. Then he just sat on the bottom,” said Neeley.
With Smith and Hooker keeping the treble hook lines tight in order to keep track of the gator’s whereabouts, Neeley got some harpoons ready.
“I got one harpoon in him. Then Crick put another harpoon in him and a bow line. We put one more line on him to pull him up from the bottom. We finally got him alongside the boat, and shot him,” Neeley said.
They couldn’t find a big enough scale to weigh the beast. They’re donating the gator’s meat to a food bank. And Hooker will be performing taxidermy duties, making a head mount to commemorate the hunt.
Click here to read about the Florence hunters who killed a 12+ foot gator at Santee.