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SANTEE -- Lee Daugherty of Florence and three friends killed a giant alligator at Santee on Sept. 15.

The 12-foot, 6-inch beast weighed 726 pounds, and is the biggest one Daugherty or his friends have ever taken.

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He was hunting with David Lowe of Florence. They have killed several gators hunting together before. Ryan Fitts, a U.S. Army recruiter from upstate New York but now living in Florence, was also on the hunt. It was his first gator hunt. Florence native George Mourounas tagged along to video the adventure. It was his first time chasing gators too.

They started the hunt in the early morning, intent on bagging a trophy gator.

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“David and I have killed a couple over 10 feet long. So we didn’t want one smaller than that. We spent a good portion of the day riding around looking, and passed on several gators that were 8 and 9 feet long. We decided we’d hunt every weekend of the season looking for something bigger than we’ve already killed,” he said.

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They found it after launching and relaunching their boats three different times, looking for the right target. They put the first hook in the gator around 1:30 p.m.

“We started off in two boats and finally saw the one we wanted to target. We found a couple of gators that were longer than 10 feet, and we alternated between actively hunting them and sitting in the shadows, waiting for them to come back up after submerging,” he said.

When they saw one of those two gators surface, they decided to race to it.

A couple of casts put two treble hooks in the gator.

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“It went right back down and we didn’t see any bubbles or anything. We made a few casts at it and got nothing. Then the two guys in the other boat behind us said, ‘Hey, it’s back here,’ and we could tell right away it wasn’t the same gator. It was a bigger one,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty headed that way and made one cast, felt something on the retrieve, and set the hook.

“Once you hook something like that, you don’t know right away if you’ve got a log or a gator. So I set the hook pretty hard, and right away, he jolted. And then he took off,” he said.

The four hunters realized quickly this was a really big gator after getting a second hook in it.

“He was clearly just walking along the bottom. In our experience, the smaller ones always take off like a billfish and just go and go. But the really big ones, they aren’t scared of anything. So they usually just walk to a spot and camp out. And that’s what this one was doing,” he said.

At this point, they abandoned one boat on the water and had all four hunters in the same boat. They tried putting some pressure on the gator to lift it, but it wouldn’t budge. The wind was having its way with their boat, and the gator walked another 75 yards or so across the bottom.

“We literally just reeled ourselves toward him. You never really feel like you’ve got that great of a hook set because it’s hard to get the hooks very deep in their hides. So we were trying to be careful,” he said.

So far, so good

The tactic was working. They were getting closer and closer to the gator, just steadily reeling in the braided line with their rods and reels.

An hour and 15 minutes into the fight, Daugherty said they were surprised the gator had not come up for air yet.

“On other hunts, we’d see a gator come up, take a quick breath, then go right back down. But we’d never seen one spend that much time under without coming up for air at some point,” he said.

Eager to make something happen, they took another line and put a big treble hook on it. They tossed out the third line and attempted to put that hook in the gator. And the fight ratcheted up to a whole new level.

“I don’t know if that third line scared him or what, but he went completely crazy. The gator just erupted. He was in about 7 feet of water, and he just blew up. He went left, right, swam in a serpentine pattern. Right away we thought we’d made a huge mistake,” he said.

But they quickly learned it was a good decision. The gator pulled them for another 30 yards. The outburst seemed to have tired the gator. They also knew the gator couldn’t have much air left. They decided to sit still and wait it out, keeping pressure on the lines. The first two hooks were still in the gator, and they felt like time was on their side.

They could see a foot of the 6-foot leader on their braided lines, so they knew the gator was about 5 feet deep. They were an hour and 45 minutes into it now. It was time again to up the ante.

A lunge at the boat

“We pulled a couple of times. It got him uncomfortable enough that he lunged at the boat. He came up nose first. And only his head came up. David took a shot at him with the bow, and the arrow hit the gator right between the eyes. The point stayed in but the arrow’s shaft just skipped off the gator’s face,” he said.

That meant they still had no buoy on the gator, so the braided line was still the only thing keeping them in contact with it. They expected the reptile to make another run. But it quickly began rolling, entangling itself in the braided line.

With the gator more secure than ever, they increased their pressure on it.

“We maneuvered the boat around so that the head would be facing away from us so we could get a good shot on it. We brought him back up again. And this time, David got him right behind the head perfectly. I’m not sure he didn’t spine shoot the gator, because once he shot it, that gator never moved again,” he said.

Daugherty and Fitts were still holding fishing rods. Lowe was making sure the buoy from the arrow was secured to the gator. So they called for Mourounas, who was busy with the video camera, to grab the handgun. He suddenly went from documenting the hunt to being the trigger man.

Mourounas put one shot in the gator’s head. The gator blew a huge air bubble, then immediately began to sink. They quickly put a bowline around the gator’s head and neck, got a second bow line on it, then dragged the beast to shore.

On to 301 Processing

They retrieved the other boat, and once in shallow water, the four men rolled the gator into the boat.

“It probably took 20 minutes for us to get him all the way in the boat,” he said.

Back at the landing and with the boat on the trailer, they realized the gator was too heavy for the trailer to make it to Florence. The fenders were rubbing the tires. So now they had to move the gator into the back of the truck.

They took the gator to 301 Processing in Florence. They are having the meat processed into gator bites, and Fitts is having the head mounted.

Daugherty always enjoys gator hunting with Lowe. And he said watching the excitement of Fitts and Mourounas on their first gator experience was also very rewarding.

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