Grant was hunting with Jim Reed, Michael Robbers and Kenny Winter. Robbers, from Palo Verde, California, was on his first gator hunt, and his Mississippi friends set out to find a gator he could wrangle. They caught and released a 6-½ footer around 10 p.m. An hour later Grant spied a pair of eyes that belonged to something bigger.
The team scrambled to intercept the gator as it moved toward a bank lined with willows and brush, but it dove before they got within casting distance. Grant used a fishing rod outfitted with 100-pound test line and a 10/0 treble hook to snag the gator as it hid on the bottom. “He immediately headed for deep water at a fast pace,” Grant recalls, “and I knew he was a good one. He was towing the boat like it was nothing.”
After 10 minutes the crew was able to position the boat above the gator again, and Kenny Winter managed to get a second line into it. That would prove to be key, as the 13-footer–spurred on perhaps by the second hook–was about to show his power.
“He pulled us from the middle of the lake all the way back to the bank,” Grant says. “On the way there he got my line wrapped around the trolling motor and actually bent the shaft before he broke my line.” With no motor and only one line in the gator, Grant was nervous as he quickly retied his line and rushed to get another hook in the gator. “With one that big, it’s always good to have at least two hooks in them. At that point we were definitely worried he might get off.”
Grant’s hook found its mark, and the gator headed back to deep water once again, now with two lines attached. Reed rigged a hand line and tossed it to Robbers, who was in the center of the boat, and the first-time gator hunter was able to get a third hook in the gator. “That really seemed to rile the gator up,” Grant recalls. “He headed back to the bank and actually ran up on the bank, with his head out of the water, to get air. That was our first good look at him, and we realized then what we were dealing with.”
By this time the fight had been going on for half an hour. “He was getting tired and so were we,” Grant says. As the gator headed once again for deep water, the crew decided that the next time the gator stopped to rest, they’d raise it with the hand line and try to get a snare on it. Mississippi regulations define an alligator as legally restrained when a hunter gets a noose or snare around its head or leg. Only then can it be dispatched.
Raising nearly 700 pounds of riled-up gator from 10 feet of water “was a real fight,” Grant says. The hand line pulled out twice, but on the third try Reed was able to get the snare on one of the gator’s hind legs.
The next several minutes alternated between long periods in which they couldn’t budge the gator off the bottom and times when the gator surfaced. Once the massive beast came up directly under the boat. “He came up full length under the boat, trying to get air, and kind of flipped it over on the side. We did take on a little water, and I guess we could have been in the water if we’d made the wrong move. Once we realized he was under boat and we were tipping, we started stomping the bottom of boat to get him to get out from under there or go back down.”
On another occasion when the gator surfaced, it blew water–and something else–all over Kenny Winter. “It was some kind of green slimy stuff,” Grant reports. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s nasty.”
One hour and 45 minutes after the fight began, the exhausted gator surfaced close to the boat and Reed was able to make a kill shot with a 20-gauge shotgun.
After Grant phoned in his preliminary measurements, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks offered to bring their own certified scale to the hunting camp to record the gator’s weight.
Alligator program coordinator Ricky Flynt (left) and conservation officer Tracy Tullos (right) certified Grant’s catch as the new state record for weight at 697.5 pounds. The gator measured 13 feet, 1 ½ inches, well short of the state record for length, which is 13 feet 6 inches. Mississippi maintains separate records for weight and length for male and female alligators. The heaviest female gator on record is 283 pounds, and the longest stretches 9 feet, 9 inches from tip to tail.
Flynt says population estimates put Mississippi’s gator numbers at approximately 50,000. That’s a big improvement from the early 1970s; with the alligator on the endangered species list, Mississippi brought in about 3,000 gators from Louisiana for stocking in suitable habitats. By 1987, gators were off the endangered list–a conservation success story–and Flynt says numbers have continued to rise in Mississippi since then. In 2005 Mississippi held its first gator hunt, granting 50 permits in a limited area. “Since that time we have basically been allowing the hamster to run the cage, by evaluating every year how our system is working as far as how permits are issued, the methods allowed for hunters to use and harvest success among hunters,” Flynt says. “We knew at some point we wanted to get where we are now, by having a geographically based hunting opportunity throughout most of the state. The zones we have open right now basically open up about 2/3 of the state.” This year Mississippi granted 810 permits, an all-time high.
“I fully expect that the record will be broken,” Flynt says. “We do know there are individual gators out there we have handled in the agency that exceed the record by 200 pounds. There have been some we weighed in the past from 800 to 925 pounds. It is very conceivable that there are some 1,000 pound alligators out there.”
As the season wound down on October 1, Thomas Grant was preparing for his own assault on the new record. Mississippi regulations limit hunters to only one gator larger than 7 feet per season. But Grant was readying his boat for another night on the water. “We can’t get another big one, but we’re gonna go out there and be looking around,” he says. “We might see another one bigger than the one we caught, and we’ll have an eye on him for next year.”
Mississippi became the second southern state to rewrite its alligator record book this fall when Thomas Grant (right) of Boyle, Mississippi, hauled in a 697.5 pounder on September 21 that topped the existing heavyweight by 7 pounds. Grant was hunting with friends on a private hunting club in Issaquena County, 16 miles north of where the previous record gator was caught last year.
Grant’s record catch came just one week after
Mike Cottingham reset the Arkansas record book with a 13-foot-3-inch, 1,300-pound gator in Hempstead County, Arkansas.