The best alligator hunt has been on my bucket list for, well, ever, so imagine my surprise when I got to check off that box during an early season deer hunting trip in South Florida. If you follow our Deer & Deer Hunting social media pages, you might have noted that we traveled to South Florida last week in search of the coveted early season Trifecta: alligator, hog and whitetail buck. It was an absolutely incredible experience; a whirlwind hunting trip unlike anything I have ever experienced.
The journey for this Florida Trifecta — via Lee Lightsey’s Outwest Farms Hunting property near Venus, FL — began on a mid-90 degree day here in Wisconsin. DDH TV producer David Gilane and I boarded our United Airlines flight with high hopes, but also with the full realization that the Florida sun would be even hotter than the dog day’s humidity we were experiencing here at home. We arrived in camp (which is nearly 3 hours straight south of Orlando) on Tuesday afternoon. The plan was to get in, get settled and sighted in for two days of nonstop hunting action. The hunting itinerary was something out of a bucket-list playbook:
Tuesday evening: Treestand bowhunting for whitetails.
Wednesday morning: Treestand whitetail bowhunt
Wednesday late morning: Spot-and-stalk alligator hunt. (with rifle)
Wednesday early afternoon: Hog hunt with hounds. (with handgun)
Wednesday evening: Treestand whitetail bowhunt.
Pretty aggressive schedule, huh? Well, imagine our surprise when we checked off all of the boxes before dinner time on Wednesday evening. It was that good.
Although the first evening sit was productive — we saw two really nice bucks in the distance — we called it a day with nothing more than a few mosquito bites to show for our efforts. It was more of the same on Wednesday morning, although we had an incredible encounter with a dandy 9-point buck that was hot on the heels of a near-estrous doe. That’s not misprint.
The morning sun was well in the sky when I heard footfalls in the swamp muck about 80 yards from the stand. Turning my head ever so slowly, I spied the buck with his head on the ground in the typical bird-dogging fashion you’d expect to see in the Upper Midwest in about the first week of November. Then I heard a twig snap (much closer to our stand), and there stood a doe with her tongue hanging out and looking quite frazzled. She ducked and weaved through the wait-a-minute vines and thick swamp understory; she was doing anything possible to get this buck off of her trail. For a moment, we thought that old nanny would walk right underneath our ladder stand and bring that buck with her. It wasn’t to be. After several tense moments in her standoff with the buck, she darted deeper into the swamp, taking him with her.
That was a pretty awesome sight — something I have never seen in my near quarter-century of hunting across the country. Rutting bucks in the heat of August; who would ever have thought of such a thing? It happens in places like South Florida simply because these deer aren’t on a biological clock like their Northern cousins. They can, will, and do breed at just about any time during the year. Oh, and that buck was full polished, too. He was a native deer that was walking around with chocolate-stained hard “horns” for nearly a week already (according to the Outwest Farms Cuddeback photos).
The Day is Only Getting Started
With the day heating up, we headed back to camp for a hearty breakfast, some much needed fluids, and a change in gear. You see, I had another plan for this trip, and that was to use my Mathews Triax for the whitetail hunt, a Thompson/Center gun for the alligator pursuit, and a Smith & Wesson revolver for the hog hunt. It was time to put the Triax down for a bit and pull out the T/C in search of a trophy gator.
Alligator hunting down here is a booming business. It hasn’t always been that way. Lightsey has been hunting them since the state instituted liberal hunting seasons. Today, it’s a unique attraction that draws hunters from all across the country. In fact, an estimated 5 million American alligators are spread out across the southeastern United States, and roughly 1.25 million alligators live in the state of Florida. I’ve had alligator meat several times, thanks to my friend Hoppy Kempfer, another Florida outfitter who we have profiled many times in D&DH-TV episodes.
On this hunt, Lightsey was confident we would see a good-sized gator on one of his neighbor’s properties. That landowner was having some problems with the gators getting to his beef calves, so he asked for assistance in getting hunters in there as soon as possible. After obtaining my permit from the state (super easy, via the phone) we were more than happy to oblige.
Just Like Turkey Hunting
After piling into Lightsey’s pickup truck, we kicked up dust on the gravel roads on our way to a high-grass slew where he had seen five big gators the previous week. After parking his truck and quietely shutting the driver’s side door, Lightsey instructed me to follow close behind as crept through chest-high grass and climbed a semi-wet bog. I listened intently, because I knew from prior research that Lee Lightsey is one of the top names in hunting monster alligators.
“We are going to slowly crest this hill, and you’ll see water on both sides,” he said. “There might be several of them laying in the water out there.”
It only took a few minutes for us to crest the hill. I peeked over the grass. Gorgeous views surrounded us. But nothing in the water.
“Well, that’s odd,” Lightsey whispered. “We were covered up in them last time. Hang on a minute; I’ll call a little.”
I wasn’t quite expecting what happened next.
You’ll hear it in the video, but that’s Lightsey making that sound with his mouth. “Ungh -ungh – ungh!”
He later told me that call is both an attractant (for males and females) and a predatory call. It mimics the call a female gator makes when she is calling to her young or while trying to attract a male.
Within moments of his first call both Lightsey and my hunting partner Michael Cassidy saw movement in the tall grass nearly 300 yards from our location.
“Oooh, there’s one in there!” Lightsey whispered. “Just stay still. They have excellent eyesight and hearing.”
“Ungh – Ungh – Ungh!” Lighstey called again.
Moments later, we see a small splash and then a “V” line in the water … heading straight for us!
I held the gun rock solid on the shooting rest. My heart is now hammering. This is going to happen … and fast!
Before heading out for the hunt, Lightsey instructed me to be ready if a gator approached. If it turned sideways in the water at any moment, I had better be prepared to shoot, because that means it would have spotted or sensed us and was fixing to disappear.
The big gator got within about 100 yards when he abruptly changed course.
It was now or never.
I held the cross-hairs steady on the gator’s eye socket.
Check one off the Trifecta list. Time to celebrate this success … and get ready to switch to hog hunting mode.
— This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Check back here next week for Part 2 of 3 in this series — Dan’s most exciting adventure yet, a close encounter (dare we say too close?) with a 300-pound plus wild boar hog.