When the bands of Tropical Storm Erika recently made their way to the South Carolina coast, the Charleston metro area was inundated. Great conditions for fish and amphibious creatures, not so great conditions for commuters on their way to work. To add to the treachery, a large alligator was caught in a photo as he floated along the streets of Shadowmoss Plantation in West Ashley.
If only alligator hunting season had begun that Monday morning.
But the 2015 public alligator hunting season opened Sept. 12. For some of us, actively pursuing and hunting these reptiles sounds like an exercise in tempting fate. But for those who come to Charleston for the thrill of the hunt, alligator season is going to keep people like Kenneth Cordray, a taxidermist at Cordray’s in Ravenel, plenty busy.
“We process about a hundred alligators a year, so it’s pretty popular,” Cordray says. “And we have out-of-state customers that I have to ship life-size mounts to: California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan. We had a gator over 13 feet made into a life-size mount that went to a sporting goods store in Michigan,” Cordray says.
Mary Pernell, owner of Pernell’s Taxidermy in Summerville, says that after deer, alligators make up about “30 to 40 percent of our work.”
Both Cordray’s and Pernell’s Taxidermy are family-owned and -operated businesses. And both businesses specialize in making sure that you can leave their shop with the kind of alligator trophy or keepsake that you’d like to have in your home or wear on your body.
The most common choice for alligators is head mounts, which come in a variety of different looks. The choices depend on personal style, preference and how well the mount fits your decor.
Perhaps you’d like your alligator head to have its jaws closed or, for adventurous types, jaws wide open with the tongue sticking out. That might provide a conversational icebreaker for a stuffy dinner party.
Or you can always have a taxidermist re-create a reptilian fight scene if that’s more your style.
“A lot of people want head mounts; closed mouth, open mouth, open mouth with tongue — the whole nine yards,” Pernell says.
“We get requests for life-size mounts, too, or half-size (mounts) hanging out of the wall. We once created a life-size gator chasing an otter. Whatever the customer wants.”
Cordray has created similar scenes as well, based on customer requests.
“I’ve done a half-body mount of two alligators fighting,” Cordray says. “And that was pretty cool.”
If customers prefer alligators to be a little less life-like, they can always opt for an alligator rug.
“Just like a bearskin rug, an alligator rug lays out flat,” Cordray says. “That’s what’s impressive about an alligator ... the size and all of the colors that they have. So if you get a rug, you get it at that size, and you get something you can put on the wall, you get a conversation piece. Something that will last you forever.”
Alligator rugs, according to Pernell, come in two different ways, “scales on” or “scales off.”
A “scales on” rug is better suited for display on a wall rather than walking on. Scales make the rugs stiffer and are likely to retain a permanent crease if bent. But the benefit to leaving the scales on is that the natural colors of the alligator are retained.
“Scales off” alligator rugs are better examples of traditional alligator hides that can be crafted into wallets, belts, shoes or even lamps. And, since the hide is flexible, it can be draped over furniture or molded into shapes and decor accessories.
“When you pull the scales off, the pigment is open so it has to be colored,” Pernell says. “That’s called garment tanning, and you have about 30 different colors to choose from.”
Cordray’s also offers the alligator rug option, and can tan alligator hide to be made into wallets and belts.
Unfortunately, according to Cordray, they have to ship elsewhere to have those items made. Cordray’s, however, sells them onsite along with some unique alligator claw key rings.
If the thought of keeping the remnants of a full-size alligator in your home does not quite fit your notion of alligator decor — perhaps you’d like something a little less obtrusive — then rest assured that you are only impeded by your imagination and your budget.
At Pernell’s, they’ve turned an alligator tail into a hat rack and alligator feet into bookends. And at Cordray’s, one customer’s full-size alligator of more than 12 feet is part of a glass-top conference room table, which has cypress trees for table legs, while the alligator lies beneath the glass in full view.
“Alligators are a very time-consuming animal,” Pernell says. “But we can work with whatever the customer wants.”
If you do plan to hunt alligator this year, rest assured you’ll be in the right spot to have your gator turned into a unique keepsake to last a lifetime.