Orlando Hunter Harpoons Florida State-Record Gator on Halloween Night

After wrapping up a night of Halloween trick-or-treating with his kids, Orlando gator hunter Tres Annerman closed the 2010 season with a bang, landing a state-record 14-foot, 3 ½ inch gator on Florida's Lake Washington.Christa Morwick
Hunting with a nephew and his buddy Sam (left), Annerman put in on the St. Johns River around 10 p.m. on Oct. 31, looking to fill the last of his seven tags on the season's final day. He'd already bagged a 12-foot-9-inch gator, a couple of 12-3s and another more than 11 feet long earlier in the season.Christa Morwick
After motoring down the St. Johns to Lake Washington, Annerman spied a big gator 500 yards away in the deep water--but as the boat approached, the gator submerged and headed toward shore.Christa Morwick
Annerman followed, noticing several smaller gators before finally spotting a particularly promising one in shallow water near the shoreline.Christa Morwick
"I could see his jaws in the water and I was looking at the length from snout to eyes, which is the best way to judge a gator. It was well over a foot, so I knew he was a big one."Christa Morwick
Using his trolling motor, Annerman was able to close the distance. "He held real good to the light and usually the big ones won't hold to the light. But I've covered mine with a red lens, and that seems to help."Christa Morwick
"We kept getting closer and closer and closer--until he was almost touching the bow of the boat. That's when he dipped, and that's when I threw."Christa Morwick
The gator was facing the boat, which makes for a difficult shot with a harpoon, according to Annerman. "He was looking dead at us, which is an almost impossible throw because the harpoon just bounces off their back." But Annerman's aim was true, hitting the gator in the neck. "It was a good shot and the dart held real good."Christa Morwick
"The rope just started spinning off my buoy. It was almost all the way out before I grabbed it. He spun the boat around pretty good and started taking us on a sleigh ride. He pulled us in circles for 30 or 40 minutes."Christa Morwick
Annerman hauled rope to get a look at the gator. "I never did catch sight of him from snout to tail, but just looking at his head I could tell we had a monster. He started doing the death roll, snapping at the boat and banging it with his head."Christa Morwick
Annerman has dubbed his 1959 V-hull "Old Leaky" because the 14-foot boat is so full of holes punched by big gators that every trip is interrupted by a bailing session.Christa Morwick
Once he got a look at the gator's jaws, Annerman wasn't worried about additional holes in his boat. "I could see he didn't have many teeth in the top of his head. Like a lot of old gators, he'd lost a lot of 'em."Christa Morwick
After several harpoons glanced off the thrashing gator's thick hide, Annerman managed to get a second dart and line in.Christa Morwick
A couple weeks earlier, a massive gator nearly pulled the bow under before snapping an 1,800-lb line tied to the boat. Taking no chances this time, Annerman kept his lines in his hands until he had the gator under control.Christa Morwick
Towing the gator with Old Leaky's eight-horsepower motor, it took him more than two hours to make the 15-minute trip back to the ramp.Christa Morwick
There Annerman used his own unique method for dispatching the gator. After taping the beast's jaws, he applied a hammer and chisel to the kill spot, severing the spine. "The kill spot is pretty small, and if you try to hit it with a gun you're probably not going to get the spot you want. So I use a chisel; always have, for all my gators."Christa Morwick
His trophies include several over 10 feet and two that stretch to 13 feet four inches. "I don't have any walls in the house left for gators," he says. "It looks like a dang zoo in here."Christa Morwick
Florida Fish & Game certified his catch as the state record at 14 feet, 3 ½ inches. The previous record, 14 feet 5/8 inches, was taken in 1997.Christa Morwick
Arnold Brunnell, a biologist with Florida Fish & Game, told a local reporter, "It was the first time I'd been able to tell someone that yes, the alligator was bigger than your boat."Christa Morwick
The gator weighed 654 pounds, well below the heaviest on record in Florida, which is 1,043 pounds. It was an estimated 50 to 60 years old.Christa Morwick
Florida Fish & Game officials recorded the following key measurements:
Maximum skull width: 14 ½ inches
Jowl girth: 51 ½ inches
Skull height: 10 ½ inches
Christa Morwick
Rear leg girth: 21 ½ inches
Tail girth: 35 ¾ inches
Body girth: 58 ¾ inches
Christa Morwick
Annerman traces his passion for alligators to his grandfather, a Florida judge who proudly displayed a gator mount and a bear mount behind the bench in his Lake County courtroom. "We had a lot of fun together when I was a kid. He used to tell me he had a gator in his backyard, but I don't know if he did."Christa Morwick
His wife, Janette, has supported his passion, even accompanying him on his first gator hunt six years ago--while seven months pregnant. She was supposed to join him for a hunt Saturday night, but high winds scuttled the trip. "I'm just so proud of him," she says. "We could never have imagined this in our wildest dreams, and for this to happen for Tres is just super."Christa Morwick
Not so super has been the negative reaction the family has experienced. "We've gotten hate mail and horrible things are being said about us," Janette says. "It's sad that people don't understand the alligator harvest program is an important part of conservation for alligators. If people were more informed maybe they wouldn't be reacting so harshly towards us." Tres Annerman says the real enemy of the Florida gator is development: "Put a house on every inch of shoreline and that does more damage than hunters could ever do."Christa Morwick
Holding the state record, he says, is awe-inspiring. "Between the nuisance program and the trappers, about 12,000 gators are harvested every year. Think about how many that is year after year after year." To have hauled in the biggest of those thousands "is like hitting a Kentucky Derby winner for a couple million bucks--that's what it feels like to me." But it's not simply a matter of luck. "If you do this long enough and practice your skills, then whenever the opportunity comes you can actually take advantage of it and harvest the animal you want. That's really what it's all about."Christa Morwick

Orlando gator hunter Tres Annerman got a heck of a treat to cap off his Halloween this year. On the last day of the 2010 gator season in Florida, Annerman landed this state-record, 14' 3 ½" alligator on Florida's Lake Washington. Steve Hill talked to the new state record holder and got the story on how he harpooned the beast.