Gator Hunting In North Alabama

The Big Foot Hoaxers at the nationally televised press conference

The Big Foot Hoaxers at the nationally televised press conference

It’s a little embarassing to admit this in public places, but since the big flap over Big Foot last August, I’ve been somewhat interested in the idea of cryptozoology.  For those of you who missed the flap, a couple of goobers from Georgia got swirled up in hoaxing the finding of a big foot body.  Their press conference announcing the find ran on most of the cable news networks and was quickly proven to be a hoax.

I’ve always been facinated by mystery animals, and in 2001 when I took a trip to Europe with friends I insisted, to the point of giving up the “right” to pick any other destination or activity, that we go to Inverness just so I could take a ride on Loch Ness and look for Nessie.  I got that trip, and spending time in Inverness is still one of my favorite memories, right up there with my wedding, the arrival of my son and the birth of my daughter.

Scotlands famous Loch Ness

Scotland's famous Loch Ness

Other than that fruitless cruise on Loch Ness, I’ve never done any “searching” for any type of weird animal.  In 1994 I did do a search for, and eventual found, a nesting pair of Bald Eagles near Winchester Tennessee.  That was more an accident than a mission, I saw a bald eagle land on a telephone on my way to work at the newspaper in that small community.  I was told I must be mistaken, since there were no bald eagles in that area.  I saw it again the next day, and managed a fuzzy picture of it.  Next thing I knew biologists from the University of Tennessee wanted to know more and they found the nest.

Since then, my interest in animals has been as an observer.  I’m not the field research type of guy, prefering to watch animals from the comfort of my sofa.  But if you’ve read my blog, you know I like to paddle about in a canoe so I’ve recently been up close to wildlife more than ever before in my life.

A snake sunning on a log I found on one of my trips.

A snake sunning on a log I found on one of my trips.

I’ve seen some weird things, such as muskrats diving in deep pools and blue herons skimming the water in front of my boat.  I’ve tipped over in snake infested waters and have been scared out of my wits by large fish jumping next to the canoe.  I’ve developed a healthy respect for wildlife and the world we share with it.

In the 4 years I’ve been paddling, I’ve never gone looking for anything.  Well, occasionally a snake or two, but I’ve been focused entirely on the trip and not the sights.  But something has been brewing in the back of my mind and I finally acted on it.

There have been rumors of alligators living successfully in North Alabama for a while.  Most biologists will tell you that it isn’t possible for Alligators to survive our occassionally harsh winters and lack of suitable habitat.  Yet sightings continue, including a recently captured gator in DeKalb County this year and a gator found in a pond in Morgan County last year.

Ultimately it was a post to Loren Coleman’s blog, Cryptomundo, that prompted me to action.  Coleman is one of the premier cryptozoologists, and he writes on all things weird and wonderful.  He posted about out of place gators found around North America, and it included the following:

On Friday, June 5, 2009, The DeKalb County Animal Adoption Center in Alabama got quite a surprise when someone dropped off an alligator (above). Director Leslie Johnson told the local paper it’s the first exotic animal the center has received.

“A man brought it in the back of his truck,” Johnson said. “He said he found it on U.S. 11, and that’s all we know.”

Johnson said she is unsure where the 2-foot gator came from. Little River Superintendent John Bundy said it is unlikely the gator is from the area. State Lake Supervisor Jack Turner said there are gators native to central and South Alabama but not North Alabama.

“It’s a bit too far north and a bit too high in altitude for alligators in North Alabama,” Turner said. Turner said the reports of alligators in North Alabama are sporadic and there is no reason for him to believe there is a population of the reptiles in the area. Lt. Michael Casalini with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said if alligators were breeding in DeKalb County, there would be more sightings.

–Loren Coleman, Cryptomundo

Is State Lake Supervisor Jack Turner correct?  Perhaps, but there are plenty of sightings in Madison and Morgan county indicating that there may be a breeding population there.  And there is at least one KNOWN alligator living wild in North Alabama in Madison County.

“Stumpy” lives on Redstone Arsenal, the area’s primary employer.  Stumpy crawls out onto one of the test ranges at the army base and gets his picture taken now and again.  He’s a big fellow, and missing part of his tail, hence the name.  If you work on post, you’ll see his picture in the Redstone Rocket now and again.

So if Stumpy is real, why can’t these other sightings be real?  Where would a breeding population of Alligators live in North Alabama?

If the rumors are true, the perfect place exists between Huntsville and Decatur, in the Wheeler Federal Wildlife Refuge.  If you visit there page, you won’t find alligators listed among the regular inhabitants, but buried on the FAQ’s page is this little tidbit:

Although seldom seen, American alligators do inhabit the Refuge. In the 1970’s, the alligator population had been reduced drastically, so 50 alligators were released here in an effort to help restore the species which at that time was federally listed as threatened. An estimated 40-50 alligators currently inhabit Wheeler NWR and at least one active nest was located during the summer of 2001.

—Wheeler Federal Wildlife Refuge website

My First Trip Gator Hunting in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

My First Trip Gator Hunting in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

An active nest in 2001?  Now since 1980, we’ve had several harsh winters.  And yet the population has stayed stable?  I’m not sure I buy this.  In fact, I believe, with nothing to back me up, that the population is larger than this and that they are breeding successfully.  Our summers are warm enough, our winters are typically mild enough and the American Alligator can survive up to two years without food, and can go dormant for long periods of time without moving, a sort of hibernation.

If you see this rig running around North Alabama, it isn't a clown car.  That's me looking for gators!

If you see this rig running around North Alabama, it isn't a clown car. That's me looking for gators!

Now I’m not suggesting that the refuge is teeming with alligators, but I do think the population is growing and spreading.  And besides, no one around here believes the alligator stories.  Everyone looks at me like I’m nuts when I mention the possibility of seeing a alligator from my canoe in North Alabama.

Well this is my birth month, and the presents came a little early.  I got a new paddle and a waterproof digital camera.  I’ve got a GPS system, thanks to my nifty iPhone, and it all seems to have come together.  I could go look for these gators on my own, take a picture, record the GPS data and possibly find a nest.  Or two.  Or three.  Prove that the Gators are growing.

So this past Sunday I started the project.  I went out to Arrowhead Landing, put my canoe in the water, grabbed my new paddle, and headed out in search of alligator.  But I made a lot of mistakes, most of them before I ever put the canoe in the water.  So while I had a wonderful paddle, I didn’t turn up any alligators at all.  Well, one possibility but that’s another story.

Stay tuned for an update on the first trip out and about on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

30 thoughts on “Gator Hunting In North Alabama

  1. Pingback: First Attempt At Gator Hunting « Running Wolf

    • look on the MeetUp site for Tennessee Valley Adventurer’s and you can see pix of the alligators. Or call biology dept at UAH. The area has always had a breeding population of alligators,we are the northmost habitat…

  2. Hey just stumbled on your blog and can tell you with certainty that there are gators in the limestone bay area. Somewhere around 2001 or 02 I caught one while fishing in Limestone bay at night. It was a farily small one about 2 feet at the most. I hear about some others but that it the only one that I have actually seen personally. Blackwell Swamp is also said to have some but I have yet to see one there even after a lot of hours canoeing over the years there. Good luck with finding one.

    • Stumpy lives off Limestone Bay near the BeaverDam swamp- she is missing part of her tail. Another big female is in Blackwell Swamp. Some in Sheffield- Scottsboro- all over the inlets and swamps of the area.

  3. I know for a fact there are aligators in north alabama. My family and i have been camped out in Mallard Creek camp ground and saw a gator. The manager of the camp ground warned us about feeding the ducks because he had spoted a gator between 10 to 12 foot long. Try the areas around mallard creek and fox creek in Lawrence and Morgan county

  4. Pingback: More eyewitness testimony « Running Wolf

  5. Wheeler is where they are. I am an avid kayaker with wheeler in my backyard. Cotaco creek off upper river road in somerville is where i see them the most. Day or night. You can also access the remote parts of the creek from AL HWY 36 in Cotaco. I know for a fact a 12-14 foot gator stays there.

  6. It’s crazy to think gators can’t live in N,Alabama!Just google Bedford Lake gator.It lived just down the road from my house,at a small lake i think it was about 8 to 10 ft. and it lived there for about 10 or more years.It was killed by the Park Ranger that lived on the lake,after it attacked and killed the Rangers dog.This is in middle TN.

    • The Bedford Lake gator is a great story. It’s somewhat different in that the gator was clearly deposited there by a exotic pet owner rather than natural and/or indigenous. Technically, the North Alabama Gators are supposed to have been introduced, illegally, by a local area congressman. Instead of one release, the report is that somewhere around 50 gators were released into Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

      Here’s the problem, and the big difference. Bedford, as the gator in Bedford Lake came to be known, was trapped in a single lake. He was the primary predator of a small ecology. In Wheeler, the 50 gators have grown, reproduce and seem to have not only a stable population, but a growing one as well. Best guess right now is that nearly 100 gators live in the area. That includes allowances for yearly clandestine murders of gators by locals and fishermen. Unlike Bedford, the North Alabama Gators are a stable community that in the past decade seems to be growing. And yet, in all that time, the official word is that only one nest has been found, back in 2001. That doesn’t make sense.

      So there is no doubt that the gators exist. What is in doubt is are they breeding and growing (and I think they must be) or is the population dying out (like the government likes to encourage locals to believe). If the population is stable, growing and thriving, like I believe it must be, then instead of ignoring them, the government should be actively protecting them. That’s really what I’d like to see… active protection of the rare, but now no longer debatable, North Alabama Gator.

      Alas, I’m probably out of luck for this year. Weather is about to change and the gators will be hunkering down for another winter soon. In fact, its quite possible this weekend may be my last chance to find the elusive critter.

  7. Just last night around 9pm, we were at the boat launch on Sharp Ford Road in Morgan County and spotted a 5 foot alligator. It was under the bridge appearing to be trying to hide until we shined the light on it. We then watched it as it swam around like we were not even there with the light shining directly on it. There are here. We were considering gigging some frogs but that quickly changed our minds.

  8. Pingback: More Eyewitnesses Including My Own! « Running Wolf

    • I trolled over a big on in Blackwell Swamp while fishing in 1994. No doubt that they are there.. or at least one. He didn’t bother me and I didn’t bother him/her. Somewhere between 10 and 12 feet.

  9. Alligators do live in North Alabama and it is neither a rumor nor a hoax.

    They were reintroduced into the Tennessee River on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in the mid 1970s by refuge manager Tom Atkeson. Several stories have been written about these gators.

    If you do not believe it contact the refuge headquarters to ask them. They had two baby gators in the visitor’s center about five years ago taken from a nest in Blackwell Swamp on the refuge.

    • I actually went over to the visitors center last year and the people there denied any alligators remained. I understand why, the gators have been found in peoples yards as the refuge boarders continue to be surrounded with homes. Locals are quick to kill them too. Illegal, but they leave the bodies and no one does anything.

      This is also the first time someones given me a name for who reintroduced the gators. Thanks. In the past it’s always been “I heard” or “some congressman”. Some have even told me they were released illegally.

      I’d still very much like to find one myself. I’ve found out of season nests, I’ve found slides. But I’ve yet to find one of the animals.

  10. Blackwell Swamp like some of the others have said does have some gators. Three summers ago there was one that would consistently show up near where most folks drop a boat in. It was probably 5 or 6 footer. Same summer a guy was out there and saw one that topped 8 foot, my friends were out there that day and were able to see what is thought the same gator. Mooresville off exit one has had a couple gators reported and made local news. Supposably the story goes along the lines that during the 60’s or 70’s gators were brought in to kill the beavers and turns out the gators aren’t to fond of the beaver meat. There are gators out there, no doubt about it. We fish out in blackwell swamp every summer when the fish bite gets good and hopefully this year we’ll see one of them big guys out there.

  11. An alligator was found in a small lake near my house (July 2010) It was captured and released in Wheeler wildlife Refuge. There is a swampy area on Zierdt Rd between the arsenal gate and Triana…definately gators there. A little waterway alongside it perfect for a canoe.

  12. So a great place to start is on charest rd ,it runs off of river road and into talucha road.. From
    Everything I’ve always heard there’s a small breeding population/nest in those little limbs of the Tennessee river!

  13. I had a friend in the late 70’s early 80’s who was once a “Gator Poacher” in Florida. One day back then he told me ” I believe there are gators on the Refuge, I’ve seen tracks”….. so I figured he knew what he was talking about!!
    He lived in Huntsville and ran Trot Lines on the River close to Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.

  14. Today was a decent February day to visit Blackwell Swamp in the kayak and fish a bit. Three of us saw a 4-5 footer as well as seeing the7- 8 footer two times…once as we went south and then again coming back up towards the airport. The gators were sunning on the lily pod beds. Since the lilies were still dormant, it was easy to see them this trip.

  15. I have been out to the Tenn river in Huntsville, AL for the past few days and have seen the same 3-4 foot gator sitting right by wheeler refuge. It is some what fearless and will swim right up to you. hangs around the swamp areas, haven’t seen one in deep waters yet.

  16. I’m an avid kayaker and I’ve photographed a 8 footer and a 10 or possibly 11 footer over the past two years in a particular area of Limestone Creek near Mooresville. Gators, especially big males, are very territorial and the biggest one has a little “pond” that he calls his own. If you know where to look you will see his slides where he enters and leaves the water. The gators are usually very shy but this spring while sitting very still in my kayak watching them swim around the big guy apparently got curious about what was in “his” territory and slowly swam up to within 15 feet of me. I decided that was close enough and moved my paddle a bit which scared him off. He did a quick 180 degree turn and submerged only to surface about 50 feet away. I’m convinced they will scoot at any sudden noise or motion but I really don’t wish to get that close to a big one again in my kayak. They are definitely breeding in Wheeler and nearby creeks and backwater swamps here.

    email me at and I’ll share some pics with you. I don’t know how to post them here.

  17. my name is randy and im from muscle shoals and i fish and hang out on the ten. river alot i would love to check out some live gators but i’m not familiar with the waters around the decatur, huntsville area (not enough to take a boat) if someone would like to guide me and my dad some time we would love it! email me at

    • Me too. Fishing in 94 I trolled over a big boy in Blackwell Swamp. Scared the bejesus out of me since I had never seen one in the wild. My little two man bass boat seamed awfully small at that point but he didn’t bother me and I didn’t bother him. Since then, I have seen three in Neely Henry Lake in Etowah/St. Clair Counties.

  18. Hi, I am an amateur photog and have followed the stories for a while. Being originally from the north, I’ve been watching for a sighting myself. There was reportedly a large one in the Slough behind the old hospital grounds in Decatur on Hwy 31N. This is the backside of Wheeler and the River as well as being off of Flint Creek which is supposedly infested with medium to small gators. The one in the Slough was reportedly as big as a fisherman’s boat which was 15. I once took a walk out to a rather secluded place but turned back because I was alone and could see huge amounts of slides and rather large slides at that. I don’t own a boat, but I soooo wish I could. It’s the big boy I wanna find. I just want to see it for myself and photograph him. I think I was out at arrowhead the same day you were and saw your vehicle! had I known, I’d have hitched a ride! 🙂

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