Record Breaking Alligator Caught in Alabama
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, August 17, 2014
Here’s how a record-breaking, 1,000-pound-plus gator was pulled from Alabama River
No, she wasn’t going out to dinner with the family.
She was going alligator hunting.
Ever since Keith Fancher and his crew pulled a 14-foot, 2-inch, 838-pound alligator from the Alabama River in 2011 to set the standard for the largest ever legally killed by an Alabama hunter, Stokes had jokingly told friends and family that if she was ever drawn for a tag, she would wear the necklace so she’d look good when being interviewed after breaking the record.
Stokes got her tag this year and the pearls still hung around her neck Saturday afternoon.
It was about 10 hours after she and husband John Stokes, brother-in-law Kevin Jenkins and his children Savannah, 16, and Parker, 14, brought a monster alligator to the check-in station at Roland Cooper State Park near Camden in Wilcox County.
Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Biologists had no trouble measuring the beast at 15 feet even, but they had to call for some relief when trying to weigh it.
The first attempt completely destroyed the winch assembly used to easily hoist most average gators. It was the same mechanism used to weigh the Fancher alligator.
Enlisting the assistance of a park backhoe to lift it, a WFF biologist officially called the weight at 1,011.5 pounds.
COMPARING IT TO OTHER BIG CATCHES
Those dimensions easily make the Stokes Gator the biggest ever killed in Alabama. Alabama does not have an official record-gator program, but its regulated hunts have only been underway for nine years, so records are easily accessed and current.
“Truthfully, after I saw the Fancher Gator, in my mind I was thinking there’s no way we can catch anything bigger than that,” Mandy Stokes said. “When I finally saw it the full-body mount at the Gee’s Bend Terminal, the main thing I remembered was the size of its feet. When I saw the size of the foot on this one, I knew it was a good one.”
Maybe the best one ever. An internet search suggests the Stokes Gator may be the largest American alligator ever legally killed by a hunter.
Just this June, Safari Club International declared a 14-foot, 8-inch, 880-pound alligator killed in Chalk Creek near Lufkin, Texas by Justin Wells of Bossier City, La., in 2007 as the new world record.
It’s not clear which metric – length, weight or a combination of both – SCI used to make its declaration.
A September 2013 story on Outdoor Life’s Website tells the tale of a 13-foot, 9-inch, 1,100-pound gator killed by Drew Baker in Arkansas. Baker’s gator is the Arkansas record, but the story makes no mention of it being in contention for world record status.
Stokes’ gator measured 70.5 inches around the stomach, 46 inches around the base of the tail and had a 16-inch snout measurement.
THE EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER OF THE CATCH
No matter by which standard alligators are measured, Mandy Stokes said her crew’s hunt transitioned from boredom to exhilaration to fear and back to exhilaration over the course of more than five hours late Friday night into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
In the chaos that ensued from the moment that Kevin Jenkins got the first hook in the animal at about 10:30 Friday night as it floated in a creek several miles above Millers Ferry Dam, some of the details have already become blurred.
Together Saturday afternoon, the crew was able to paint a pretty vivid picture of the sometimes harrowing adventure involved with capturing and killing a member of Alabama’s only dangerous-game species that can legally be hunted.
It’s important to note that Mandy Stokes’ crew, including the teens, is made up of experienced woodsmen and woman, who regularly hunt the rural landscape near their home and fish the Alabama River often.
Still, they were treading in unfamiliar water with alligator hunting since none of them had ever drawn an Alabama alligator possession tag in the previous three west-central zone seasons or assisted on another tagholder’s hunt.
The fact they were able to battle it to the boat at all is a testament to what Mandy Stokes said was a matter of using “common sense” and what her husband described humbly as the ability to adapt on the fly and overcome multiple obstacles thrown in their way.
The crew laughed when describing how for nearly two hours early in the fight John Stokes and Kevin Jenkins each strained under the bind of a large snatch hook they thought was snagged into the gator’s hide only to discover they had somehow each hooked an opposite end of the same water-saturated log.
THE CATCH THAT ALMOST GOT AWAY
They completely lost the gator shortly thereafter and had to cut and splice their 80-pound-test braided lines back together several times, so they could untangle them from around logs and stumps.
At one point, Keven Jenkins dropped a rod-and-reel combination to the bottom so John Stokes could drag it back under a log and continue the battle.
The fight came to a dramatic head about four hours in when the alligator swam under a large patch of lily pads with only its tail up to its torso remaining visible in the 3-foot-deep water near the bank.
John Stokes said by this time in the fight, attrition through broken lines, hooks straightened due to the gator’s strength or hooks caught and lost to underwater stumps and logs, had reduced their supply of nearly two-dozen hooks down to only a few.
Unable to budge the gator from its new hide, they decided to go all in and rigged a couple of their last hooks to try to force it to move.
The maneuver seemed to go as planned since the gator apparently became wary of this new aspect of the game and submerged.
As soon as they realized he was backing out of the plants, they began wrapping the three lines and a rope attached to a leg around the boat’s cleats – effectively pulling the boat toward the gator while also hoisting the animal toward the surface.
Mandy Stokes uncased a 20-gauge shotgun, loaded it and pointed it at the sweet spot behind the eyes and at the base of the neck where she’d been told to aim by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division instructors at a mandatory training class.
When she pulled the trigger, however, the gator’s head was too far below the water’s surface, rendering the shot’s impact useless in its primary purpose of killing the animal.
It did elicit a quick response, however.
“All it did was make this gator mad,” Mandy Stokes said. “Fear had taken hold at this point.”
The massive creature still hip-tied to the aluminum boat’s cleats surged forward with its massive tail and began towing the 17-foot boat and its five passengers across the stump-strewn creek at a startling speed.
It was inevitable, but everyone onboard was still unprepared when the boat crashed into one of those stumps, sending the crew spilling on top of each other into the vessel’s bottom.
It took several minutes to recover from the impact, but the crew found they were bruised but not yet beaten by the beast now hanging limply from the boat.
Kevin Jenkins said, they also realized they had reached a point where a decision had to be made.
“By then, we all knew what we had tied to that boat. We talked about it and decided that we were either going to have to kill this gator pretty quick or we were going to cut him loose,” he said.
Voting in favor of one last effort, John Stokes worked a snare as far around the gator’s tail as possible. Within minutes, Kevin Jenkins also tied one of their final snatch hooks onto a spool of nylon trotline cord he just happened to find in the borrowed boat and was lucky enough to get it stuck just under the animal’s bottom jaw.
With Jenkins lifting its head, Parker Jenkins said the three others “bowed up like a Halloween cat” and coaxed it to the surface.
“He came up just as calm as he could,” Mandy Stokes said. “That’s the only thing on Swamp People that’s true. When I pulled the trigger this time, water just exploded on all of us.”
One other thing she found out: a well-placed load of shot to the sweet spot behind the eyes spells a quick end to an alligator’s life.
It was almost 5 a.m. straight up.
John Stokes said anyone within a hundred miles of that spot probably heard the mixed screams of relief, joy and exhilaration that it was over.
“We give all the glory to God. Ten men couldn’t have done what we did,” he said.
Mandy Stokes added, “If it wasn’t for the grace of God, we never could have done it. At one time during this whole thing, I honestly thought, you know what; we didn’t sign up for that.”
The reality of the need to now move the dead weight of such a huge animal set in when their best efforts to load the beast into the boat, including beaching it on the bank and trying to roll the gator in, proved fruitless.
They finally accepted the fact that the only way they were getting it back to the Shell Creek launch was to get as much of it as possible over the gunwale and strap it to the boat’s side.
As much as possible equaled one front leg, one back leg and the tail.
It was in this manner, with the gator tied on one side and the five passengers hugging the opposite gunwale to provide counter-ballast, that they made the hour-long trek back to the truck.
It was also during the trip back to the boat launch that the gator’s size started sinking in.
“The whole time we were out there, we thought we were in a 16-foot boat. So doing some comparison to the size of the boat, we figured the gator might be 13 feet,” John Stokes said. “Then Kevin found out it was a 17-foot boat, and we started looking at that gator again.”
They enlisted more help to load the gator on a trailer, so it could be transported to the Roland Cooper State Park check station where WFF officials has been alerted they were going to arrive later than the normal 7 a.m. closing time.
It’s official weight was announced toward the very end of the live broadcast of the “Gettin’ Outdoors Radio with Big Daddy Lawler” show.
Lawler had scheduled to be on-site months in advance and had spent the night monitoring gators checked-in in preparation for Saturday morning’s show. His live broadcast of the Stokes Gator’s arrival at the scales had attracted an estimated crowd of 300 spectators.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE CATCH?
Mandy Stokes said the gator is scheduled to be transported early Sunday morning to Ken Owens’ Autaugaville taxidermy shop. Owens did the full-body mount of the Fancher Gator.
There it will be skinned out, but the Stokes are still weighing their options about what to do with it.
Mandy Stokes hopes her first gator hunt won’t be her last, but admits it taught her a valuable lesson.
“Right now the fairest way for me to say it is that we’ll apply again, but I can assure you, I have no desire to hook into anything like this again. I truly don’t,” she said.
Looks like it might be a while before Stokes’ pearl necklace again sees the fading light of a gator-hunting night’s begin.