Filling an alligator tag is a dream come true for many South Carolina sportsmen — filling three in the same outing is nothing short of incredible.
But that's exactly what happened for Buck Koon of Gilbert and Jason and Amy Kirkland of Leesville.
On the opening day of the South Carolina gator-hunting season, Sept. 9, they set out on Santee Cooper’s Lake Marion and got the job done with a 9-, an 11- and a 12-foot gator.
With all three hunters drawing tags from the same management unit, Koon and the Kirklands rode the banks of a cove off the southern end of the lake in the early afternoon and kept their eyes peeled. Joey Lee of Leesville and his children, Brodie and Braelyn, were also on board to help, in addition to Koon’s hunting partner and brother, Josh Koon of Gilbert.
“We didn't see the gator until the last minute, but he slid off the bank,” Buck Koon said. “We knew he didn't go far because they're usually going to stay in that general area. We let him go back up two more times and we ran over there.
“Whenever that gator would slide off, we couldn't find him. He wasn't leaving any bubbles. Then, I saw a muddy area about 25 to 30 yards from where he slid and I flipped the hook out there.”
Koon snagged the gator with a 10/0 weighted treble hook on a rod and reel spooled with 30-pound monofilament line. Josh and Joey followed suit with similar outfits. They fought it close enough for Buck to toss in a 20/0 weighted treble hook on a 7,000-pound MULETAPE hand line that he snatched into the meat.
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“He went crazy, then,” Buck Koon said. “He was pulling the boat around, rolling, fighting. It was total chaos — in a fun way.”
In a span of about 6 minutes, the 12-foot, 1-inch gator was close enough to the boat to kill.
“I shot it in the back of the head with my dad’s old service pistol, a .357 Colt revolver,” Jason Kirkland said. “We couldn’t get it in the boat, so we pulled it to the bank. I put my tag in it and we took a bunch of pictures before putting it in the boat.
"We said we’d try for another one, but if we didn’t get it pretty quick, we’d head back. We went around to another little pocket and there was another one.”
The hunters quickly snagged it with the smaller trebles and Jason followed up with the larger hook. Once in range, Amy pulled the trigger on the 11-foot, 3-inch gator and Buck followed up with a shot from his pistol for good measure.
“As we were sitting there, almost immediately, another set of bubbles went out in front of the boat,” Jason Kirkland said. “We had only planned on getting two, but Buck said we could go ahead and fill his tag. I caught it with the big hook and we pulled it up to the boat. Joey shot the 9-footer.
“We wound up with three of them right there, all back to back.”