Monster from the deep Hunters kill 980-pound alligator

Published 12:05 pm Friday, September 17, 2010

For decades, a beast lived in the waters of Issaquena County.

It was glimpsed on occasion, sunning itself on a levee or swimming in a lake. It made the area its home for at least 50 years, maybe 60 or 70. As with most great legends, no one can say for sure. Only anecdotes and grainy photos proved its existence.

On Sept. 11, a group of local hunters set out to take down the beast. Armed with a fishing rod, shotgun and plenty of courage, they took to the water. When their epic 45-minute battle was over, the beast was dead and the record books gained a footnote.

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Cary residents Nick Stuart and Frank Stuart, Jonothan Kent of Rolling Fork, and Marty Stuart and Corey Hunt of Clinton caught and killed the 12-foot, 8-inch alligator on private land in Issaquena County. The gator was about 10 inches short of the Mississippi state record for the longest ever caught, but its estimated weight of 900-plus pounds is an unofficial state record.

The gator measured 64 inches around at the belly, and 48½ inches around at the base of the tail. Frank Stuart said the skinned hide alone weighed 175 pounds.

“It’s more like a dinosaur,” Hunt said.

The gator was not weighed because no equipment strong enough to handle it was available. Because of that, its status as the heaviest on record will remain unofficial. At 900 pounds, however, it would easily be the largest in Mississippi and among the heaviest caught in any state.

Hunt, a licensed nuisance alligator trapper with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, also helped land a 13½-foot, 636-pounder in the Pascagoula River in 2008. That is the heaviest confirmed gator killed in Mississippi.

“As far as weight, there is no confirmed weight because it was not weighed. I will say this. That was probably the heaviest alligator I have ever caught,” Hunt said. “He was 900-plus pounds. There’s no doubt about that.”

The heaviest gator caught in the United States is believed to be a 1,043-pounder taken in Orange Lake, Fla., in 1989. Most states keep official records for length, but not weight. Florida, which does keep weight records, has had at least seven gators larger than 800 pounds caught within its borders since 1983. Wildlife officials in Alabama, Texas and Louisiana said their largest wild gators topped out between 600 and 700 pounds.

Several gators in South Carolina have been reported in excess of 800 pounds, including a 1,060-pounder. However, Jay Butfiloski, a biologist with the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said he believes many weight estimates are off-base and are not confirmed by the state agency.

MDWFP alligator program coordinator Ricky Flynt did corroborate the size of the Issaquena County gator. In 2008, he took pictures of it sitting on a levee as part of an investigation into whether it qualified as a nuisance gator. He confirmed its size, and that the one taken by Hunt and the Stuart family was the same one he had photographed.

“It was well in excess of 800 pounds,” Flynt said. “There were some unique characteristics about the scutes on the tail and a mark on its head that identified it.”

Hunt met Frank Stuart at a hunter safety course in Jackson earlier this year. Stuart, who had access to the area where the big gator lived, invited Hunt to come there. On the second day of the private land gator hunting season, Sept. 11, the group encountered their prize.

After setting their baits around the lake, they returned and found the 900-pounder hooked. They tried to bring him in with a rod and reel, with little success. The gator bent one hook and broke the line on a second reel. The hunters snared the gator with a third hook, but it wasn’t done yet. It dragged their 18-foot boat for several hundred yards around the lake and, at one point, rammed the underside of the boat as it tried to surface.

“Them things can drag you all over the place. We probably covered 150 yards with him. Cheapest trolling motor you’ll ever find,” Hunt said.

Finally, after a 45-minute fight and just as the sun was setting, the hunters wore the gator out. It was reeled in close to the boat and dispatched with a shot to the back of the head. Unlike smaller gators that can be lifted into the boat, the hunters had to tow this one to shore.

“We drug him to the bank. There’s no way to get a gator that big into the boat. You’ll capsize,” Hunt said. “Five grown men couldn’t lift that gator.”

Hunt said he had fun hauling in the leviathan.

“We were after one big alligator. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we got,” Hunt said.

Frank Stuart will get the mounted head, as well as enough meat to last a lifetime.

“I’ve been giving away alligator meat all week,” he said with a laugh. “It’s hard to give that much away.”