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Gator season opens for select few

When Chris and I bought our home in 2018, he pretty much gave me free range to do whatever my little heart desired with the inside. His one request was simple enough: let him have the living room. That I could do. What a tradeoff, right!? One room in exchange for everywhere else? Sold!

I had no idea then what I was getting myself into.

On second thought, in full transparency, maybe I had some idea because I married an outdoorsman, but I digress.

Nonetheless, I knew I’d have fish on the walls, some mounted deer, maybe a duck or two, a stuffed bobcat. Our agreement was fine and dandy until last fall. Then, he really pushed the limits. In just a few months, I’ll have to see a preserved gator head somewhere in my living room as the taxidermist just called and told us it’s ready for pick-up.

For years, Chris tried and tried to win the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s lottery for an alligator tag. He finally got his lucky break last September, and almost a year later, he’s reliving the thrill of the hunt, hoping someone here in Emanuel will get to experience the same thing.

You see, the American alligator is, at the heart, a conservation success story. Due to loss of habitat and unregulated market hunting, alligators were reduced to low numbers by the early 1900s. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists and state wildlife agencies, alligators were listed as endangered in 1967. This status, combined with proactive management and law enforcement efforts by wildlife professionals, allowed alligator populations to rebound. They now flourish over most of their historic range. Alligator populations increased to the point that their protected status was downlisted in 1987, allowing greater flexibility to manage populations.

The alligator population in Georgia is one of many renewable natural resources that can maintain limited harvest, in concert with biological monitoring and periodic evaluations. Our state’s flourishing alligator population is managed in part by licensed nuisance alligator agent-trappers, who annually remove about 170 gators in Georgia. Perhaps the most effective method of managing Georgia’s gator numbers, though, boils down to a regulated hunting season, which opens this weekend at sunset this Friday, August 20. The season will close at sunrise on Monday, October 4.

People like my husband who are interested in participating in a totally hands-on, eye-to-eye hunting adventure unlike any other hunting experience—madmen, if you will—can enter the drawn-at-random lottery through Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. The application period started back on June 1, though, so if you didn’t get your submission in by then, you’re out of luck this year. Tag winners were notified by July 15.

The tag is good for a bag limit of one gator. Any “legal” gator in Zone 9, which encompasses Emanuel, must be greater than or equal to 48 inches in length as measured from end of the snout to tip of the tail. Hunters may use only handheld ropes or snares, snatch hooks, harpoons, gigs, or arrows with a restraining line attached to land the animal. Once a gator has been caught, the hunter has to report it to DNR within 24 hours, and a ranger will then come and certify the catch.

Reliving his own experience, Chris called it an “unforgettable” ordeal. His dad, Bob Lamb, helped him scout the right gator—a healthy one worth the tag—for weeks. Sure enough, three weeks prior to the bag, his dad called him and told him about the beast. On September 5, they took care of business together.

“September 5, 2020 is a day I’ll never forget. Gators are really smart, and I spent three weekends trying to make something happen,” he explained. “The first day of the first weekend was my fault. I couldn’t get a hook over him. After that, he just wouldn’t give us an opportunity. The second weekend, the wind was gusting and blowing the line all over. He gave me and my buddy, Brett Allen, the slip the next day. The third weekend, September 5, I wasn’t going to try for him, but decided I better go that morning, anyway, so I called my dad and told him I was coming. I got a shower, went and got breakfast, and went and met my dad. It only took about 10 minutes to spot him after we got in the boat. We kept easing toward him, and he went down. It seemed like forever, but really, only about 10 minutes had passed. The gator finally popped up. I took my shot and missed, but he stayed above the water, and the next cast was perfect.”

It took well over an hour for Chris and his dad to load the gator out of the murky waters of Coleman Lake. The catch of a lifetime weighed about 300 pounds or better and measured more than 10’ long. With the help of a friend, Michael Claxton of Midville, Chris loaded him on a trailer and brought him back home to Kite. He used the winch on our side-by-side to hoist up that beast and commenced to cleaning it, a process that took him and family member Artralian Snell more than seven hours to complete. We were able to put up about 24 quart and gallon bags of gator tail meat as a result of the work.

Like most hunters, Chris will tell you there’s a special connection between man, animal, survival of the fittest, and the circle of life. For him, last year’s gator hunt was significant not only because of the trophy and the meals we’ll have in the future—but mostly because, after trying for a tag for years, he finally got one, and he says the lottery worked in his favor not by coincidence but by divine intervention. His sister, Maci Lamb, had passed away from cancer just 11 months before, and she knew firsthand how many times Chris had tried to get a tag but failed.

“I knew when I applied for a tag in 2020 that I would get it. Maci was going to make sure of it,” he said. “She was with us during the hunt, I know it. I love and miss her so much. This hunt was for her.”

In explaining why the hunt was such a thrill, Chris continued, “It’s such a huge animal, and they’re intelligent like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a lot of work physically and mentally to pull it off. As much of a thrill it is to come out on top, you still have to honor that animal and use it to the best of your ability so it’s life isn’t taken for nothing. We tried not to waste anything. We kept as much meat as we could and even had some to give away. We gave the skin away to be tanned, and I kept the head to be preserved.”

If there’s anyone in Emanuel who has gotten their gator tag, he’d like to wish you the best of luck and offer a few short pieces of advice.

“It’s a great experience, but it can be dangerous, too. Make sure you have all your paperwork, like your license and your tag, in line, and make sure you have all the right safety equipment. Most of all, just go have fun and make your tag worth it!”

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