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McAteer's 14-Footer Tops Alligator Season
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Teamwork was the key for Josh McAteer and his crew during the 2013 Alabama alligator season. Had it not been for some help from another boat, McAteer isn’t sure they would have won the battle with the 14-foot alligator that was the longest gator of the season.
McAteer and his crew of Kaylon Cole, Blake Smith, Jim Kilpatrick, and his dad, Sammy McAteer, were in the Alabama River about 10 miles from their hometown of Selma. The area was very familiar to the crew because of their crappie fishing success in the past. They also knew that a big gator liked to hang out in the area.
“We saw a big gator there when we were crappie fishing in April and May,” McAteer said. “But that was the last time we saw him. We scouted for about three weeks before the season started and never put eyes on him. We knew the big gator was there. We just threw at some bubbles. We never saw his eyes. We ended up hooking into him. It was pretty much luck.”
The Selma crew cast weighted treble hooks with rods and reels to get the gator hooked. That’s when the teamwork kicked in.
“A buddy of mine had a tag, too,” McAteer said of Ware Cox and his crew of Zach Hughey and John Cox.“So we had two boats. When we hooked into him, we had two hooks in him. We were at the mouth of the creek where it was only 7 or 8 feet deep. So I threw the big treble hook at him with a rope on it. That treble hook came out, but it made him mad, and he ran back up in the creek.
“With the other boat, we got them to hold the reels while we followed the line into the slough. Then we were able to get more rods in him. He was in the middle of the creek when we finally got him. He had been under for about an hour, so it was time for him to come up.”
McAteer threw the big treble hook again and this time it stuck. He hauled the big gator to the surface, where a noose was waiting. With the noose in place, the gator was quickly dispatched.
“We had this gator in the boat by 9:30, so it wasn’t long at all,” he said. “The gator last year took us four or five hours to get in the boat. The one last year was 12-foot-9, but he was in the middle of the river. It was a lot more of a fight because he was in the deeper water. They go under and stay under. It’s not like you can move them around when they’re that big.
“It’s a lot easier to fight them in that shallow water. But the key was I had a good buddy with another boat that made it 10 times easier. We may have not been able to get him if it hadn’t been for them. We had to follow the line out into the middle of the creek. We used a gaff to find the line.”
McAteer said they had seen other smaller gators in the area before, so he wasn’t quite sure what was on the end of the line.
“When I got that big treble hook in him, I knew,” he said. “I knew it was him then. Before that, it was a guessing game. This gator had been seen in two different sloughs, but I think they get smart when they get that big. It’s just like deer. You don’t see the big ones very much.”
McAteer said it was a good thing the fishing hole produced a huge gator because it sure wasn’t good for crappie.
“The crappie fishing was a little slow,” he said. “We had too much rain. The water was up so much, they were hard to find. We have a crappie tournament every year, but we cancelled it this year because the water was so high.”
McAteer said he is having the gator’s head mounted and the hide will be sent off to get tanned. A friend is also making cup holders out of the gator’s feet.
The gator season in west central Alabama ended with 30 of the 50 tags filled. McAteer’s 14-footer, which weighed 725.5 pounds, topped the list, although Meg Sheffield of Grove Hill got close with her 13-1, 663.5-pounder. Four other gators topped 12 feet – Kevin Hayes of Jemison with a 12-10 ½ at 606 pounds, Will Worcester of New Market with a 12-8 at 597.5 pounds, Jake Case of Northport with a 12-8 at 463 pounds and Gary West of Saraland with a 12-7 at 550 pounds.
The heaviest gator caught this year in Alabama came from southeast Alabama around Eufaula. That gator weighed a whopping 802 pounds and measured 13-1. Biologist Richard Tharp with Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) said the tag holder asked that his name not be released. Tharp said 20 of the 75 tags had been filled, although hunters in that zone still have a few days remaining to report any gators taken.
“I think we’re running a little behind this year compared to the numbers we’ve averaged the last few years,” Tharp said. “I think it will be because of the weather and the water is up, which could have moved the gators way back into the sloughs where they’re hard to reach.”
Keith Gauldin, WFF’s Large Carnivore Coordinator in Spanish Fort, had a similar report for the southwest Alabama zone that includes the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The final tally was 76 tags filled out of 150 issued. There were 57 males and 19 females taken with 29 males 10 feet or longer. Eight of those were 12 feet or longer.
Luke Ezell of Foley had the longest gator at 13 feet 1 inch, but the animal weighed only 504 pounds.
“That’s a long, skinny gator,” Gauldin said.
The other top gators from southwest Alabama were a 13-even, 592-pounder caught by John King of Spanish Fort and a 12-1, 600-pounder landed by Richard Wood of Opelika.
“This was a really unusual year in the amount of precipitation we had all summer, which led to high water, especially in the areas to the north,” Gauldin said. “That allowed the alligators to get into the trees and weren’t accessible by boat. Plus, there was a lot more current in the rivers, which reduced the number of gators that were seen.
“It was a hard year for the hunter. I went out and did some patrol work on each hunt, and there was a lot of boat traffic in the larger rivers like Blakeley. I think a lack of knowledge of the area and the lack of scouting had something to do with the reduced harvest. The high-water situation was really unusual. We haven’t had that before in the eight years of the hunt. The good thing is there were no reported injuries, so it was a safe hunting record.”
PHOTOS: (By James “Big Daddy” Lawler) The longest alligator taken during the 2013 Alabama alligator season was this 14-footer taken by (from left) Josh McAteer, Kaylon Cole, Blake Smith, Ware Cox, Zach Hughey, John Cox, Jim Kilpatrick and Sammy McAteer. The gator, which came from the Alabama River, weighed in at 725.5 pounds. Tag holder Meg Sheffield helped subdue this 13-1 gator that hit the scales at 663.5 pounds. Meg’s team of Mark Sheffield, Charley Sheffield, Matt Tucker and Hunter Cross subdued the gator in Buzzard’s Roost on Millers Ferry.