LAKE MARION — Kaylee and Cody Addison had been out all night, spotted a few dozen alligators, stalked one but lost it. The wind had picked up. The weather was squally. The couple’s first alligator hunt wasn’t going well.
It was about to get much better.
They were on their way back to the landing just before daybreak Thursday when they saw a big one cruising a bank on Lake Marion. The first crossbow shot landed an arrow, but the gator threw it off and submerged. They waited more than a half-hour for it to surface, then Kaylee Addison hit it with an arrow that stuck.
Even then they didn’t know just how big it was. The couple and friend Nick Jones, all from Anderson, wrestled the monster to the 21-foot jon boat but couldn’t get it in. So they tied it off and floated it back to the dock — where they tried again to get it in the boat.
“We tried winching it, strapping it and changing the strapping. We just couldn’t lift it,” Cody Addison said. Not until three more people turned up to help could they do it. At Cordray’s Venison Processing in Ravenel, they put it on the scales and got the score — 780 pounds, 12 feet, 10 inches long.
That’s about as big as the critters get.
“It’s close to the biggest I’ve ever gotten and the biggest so far this year,” Michael Cordray said.
The public alligator hunt is underway through Oct. 11 in streams along the coast and into the Midlands, as popular as it is controversial. Cordray said that based on what he’s seen it’s going really well this year.
The American alligator is the toothy prehistoric monster of the Lowcountry, as frightening as it is awe-inspiring. For some people, coming across one makes for a catch-your-breath moment that tugs at the love for the land. For others the thing is a menace to be rid of.
No one has a good estimate of how many alligators there are in the state; historic surveys guesstimated it at 100,000. A more exhaustive survey is underway. The hunt is one of three permitted “harvests” managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Hunt supporters say the culls are needed to control a growing population of dangerous quarter-ton reptiles. Before the hunts, gators had begun showing up too big and too frequently on people’s properties near the water. Critics say the hunts are little more than slaughter of the recently re-established species, prodded by legislators representing hunting interests.
More than 300 will be killed by the 1,000 permit holders this year in the public hunt, if annual averages hold. Hunters tend to seek the largest animals, and that’s raised alarms about depleting the mature “brood stock” vital to a sustainable population. In the 2014 public hunt alone, the average size of the kill was eight feet long, according to DNR.
“I think the population needs to be contained” for its own health as well as the safety of people and their pets, Cody Addison said, comparing it to annual deer hunts. “I think it’s good to keep a manageable population.”
The Addisons will eat the tail meat, mount the head, tan the skin and make lamps of the feet. For the hunting family, the big game thrill of bringing back that large a trophy is unmatched.
“I don’t know how you can top an experience like this,” Addison said.
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