Bowhunting for 1,000-Pound Alligators: Tips from a South Florida Guru

Picture this: It's dark. You're standing at the front of a bass boat, bow in hand. And as your buddy or guide motors you into range, you see them—the orange glowing eyes of a monster alligator staring at you from just 5 yards away.

At least until elk season, big-game bowhunting doesn’t get bigger than this. Just ask Tom Walker, a South Florida gator guru (941-445-7617), who guides his clients to a 100 percent success rate. Here’s how he does it.

Alligator Armory

To bowhunt big gators, you’ll need some specialty gear:

Bow
Your deer bow will work, as will any smooth-shooting budget bow, such as the Bear Encounter ($300; ­bear​­archery​­products.com). Walker wants his clients pulling 60 pounds minimum.

Reel and Buoy
An AMS Big Game Retriever Pro system ($115; ­ams​bowfishing.com) keeps the line tangle-free. The end of it is attached to a buoy that the gator takes with him after the shot.

Arrow and Point
Use a heavy fiberglass bowfishing arrow rigged with a heavy steel bowfishing point that will separate from the shaft, such as Muzzy's Gator Getter ($27; muzzy.com).

Harpoon
Big gators often require a second buoy. Gator Pro sells complete harpoon rigs ($215 for an 8-footer; huntinglight.com).

Bang Stick
Here's the coup de grâce tool of choice for boatside gators. Walker uses a .357 magnum stick ($269; custom​bangsticks.com).

Gator Cruise

How to motor into shooting range and arrow your trophy

Night Light
Use a big headlamp to spot alligator eyes at night.

Firing Signal
As soon as the guide illuminates the gator, be ready to release your arrow.

Gator Country
To find big gators, you need to hunt in big water. Walker scouts shorelines, coves, creeks—anywhere with food and cover is good gator habitat. "My favorite places to hunt are tied into major river systems," Walker says. "Big water holds lots of female gators, and that's what attracts the big males we're hunting."

Sound Advice
If you can sneak up close with a trolling motor for an unhurried shot, great—but gators get wise to that fast. "One trick I use a lot is to cruise up to them with the outboard," Walker says. "They're used to just sitting there when fishermen run by them on plane." He motors just a little faster than idle speed—quick enough not to make the gator suspicious. (Check local regs about shooting from a moving boat.) "I shine the light above them so I can barely see them," he says. "As soon as we're in range, I hit them with the beam."

Ongoing Battle
Gators usually head for deep water after the shot. Watch for your buoy. When it comes up, grab it and start easing the line into the boat.

Out With a Bang
As the fight slows down, get the gator broadside to the boat if possible, and have a buddy hold the lines tightly. In most states, the person holding the tag must be the one to kill the gator. "You have to stay calm and hit him with the bang stick right where the head and neck meet," Walker says. "His head needs to be just under the water, otherwise you'll get hit with shrapnel and bone fragments. And I always wrap their jaws shut with electrical tape. You never know for sure if a gator is all the way dead."

Sticking Point: _Aim just behind the shoulder or jowls._

_From the June, 2013 issue of Field & Stream

Top photo by Ryan Somma via Flickr
Homepage photo by Jay Dodge_