A team of gator hunters from southeast Alabama won the state’s tag lottery, then hit the jackpot in the Pea River near the town of Samson, two hours south of Montgomery. While prowling the Pea late on the night of Saturday, August 19, the trio of rookie hunters hauled in a 12-and-a-half foot monster that weighed 474 pounds.

Long-time friends Josh Chambless, Dustin Wise, and Kyle Kennington set out in their 18-foot boat just after sunset on the third night of the season. They were on the river for two and a half hours before they encountered the giant reptile. Fishing with weighted treble hooks, they snagged the beast from 15 feet away, but it didn’t budge. When they hooked it with a second rig, it went bananas, charging and ramming the side of the boat, slashing its tail, and soaking the guys.

They had it close to the boat, but they were far from catching it. It dragged the vessel down and across the river; then it dove to the bottom of the river and hunkered down for the next hour and a half. 

It was around midnight when the behemoth finally relented, resurfacing for a breath. This time, the team snared it and dispatched it with a 12 gauge shotgun. “He looked like a submarine coming up,” Chambless told WDHN News, “and when I pulled the trigger, he turned into dead weight.”

They struggled for 20 minutes in the current before finally dragging the animal aboard. Referencing the long ordeal, Chambless jokingly told WDHN that the team might go for a smaller one next time. The wildlife biologist Chambless spoke with when arranging for his Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) tag, told him it was the longest alligator caught in Alabama’s southeast zone so far this season.

Nearly extinct by the 1940s, American alligators were first protected in the state of Alabama in 1938 and added to the federal endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967. After a robust recovery, they were removed from the list in 1987 but still remain a federally protected species. Alabama currently has five designated Alligator Management Areas, for which the state issued 260 tags through their lottery system in 2023.

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“We have each been applying for gator tags for several years,” Kennington told the Dothan Eagle. “Josh drew a tag this season. This is the first tag our group has drawn.” The group plans to eat the meat, tan the hide, and mount the head of their inaugural catch.