First Attempt At Gator Hunting

This post is about a week late.  No, it’s exactly a week late.  This is the story of my first attempt at hunting for the elusive North Alabama Gator.  It took place on Sunday, 14, 2009.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve decided to track down the North Alabama Gator.  Rumor has it that the gator can be found in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, but there are few pictures available, if any.  And no pictures of active nests.  In fact, since the gator release in the 70’s, only one nest has been found and that was in 2001.

Limestone Bay at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Limestone Bay at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

So I went looking.  My first attempt at finding the gator was to try the backwaters of Limestone Bay. I put in at Arrowhead Landing, but that may not have been the best choice.  Everyone claims the gators are in the various backwater swampy sections, so that’s where I wanted to go.  Arrowhead Landing, however, is a long paddle to the backwaters.  Over a wide bay that can be quite windy.  But I made it to the backwaters and explored as far as I could after the long slog.

Water Lillies in the Backwaters of Limestone Bay

Water Lillies in the Backwaters of Limestone Bay

Actually, I was willing to explore more, but my GPS wasn’t working at the time, and I came to a point where I wasn’t sure I could find my way out if I continued.  So I turned back instead.  Quite disappointing for the first time out.  But the trip wasn’t wasted, as I learned quite a bit about myself and my abilities.

One of the interesting things I learned is how and why eyewitness testimony in the search for cryptids isn’t the best of evidence.  I was on a channel where I’d heard rumor that gators had been seen.  I was coming up on a log, and thought I saw a turtle sunning itself on a branch.  As I reached for my camera, the “turtle” jumped off the log.  Only as it left the log and I got a better, if fleeting, glimpse of the creature I realized it wasn’t a turtle.  Now I can’t swear it was a gator, but it sure looked like one.  It had the typical markings of a young gator, with the yellow bands found on the very young.  But it could have just been a typical turtle and I could have had “gator on the brain” and seen what I wanted to see.  Without the picture to identify the critter, I basically have nothing.

Take a look at this picture of a young alligator:

Yes, these two cuties are on the back of an adult gator, but you can see the color difference between the big one and the very young.  You can really see the yellow stripes in this picture.

Now look at a common turtle in the refuge:

I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone confuse these two critters.  They are clearly different.  But think about a quick glance as it slips off a log to disappear into the water.  Add to that the fact that you’re looking for a gator, and trust me, you can get them confused.  So I don’t know what I saw.

(BTW, I shamelessly pirated those pictures off the web.  Bad researcher!)
This is the area I think I may have seen a baby alligator.  Maybe.

This is the area I think I may have seen a baby alligator. Maybe.

Now I do know this, if it was a gator I saw, Momma wasn’t far away.  The American Alligator is one of the very few reptiles to care for their young.  It is thought this is a throwback to the dinosaurs, which really the American Alligator is a modern version of a dinosaur.  So if it was a gator, I was damn close to my ultimate goal of seeing and photographing a North Alabama Gator.  Frustratingly close.  I didn’t see momma anywhere, so I’m leaning toward believing I saw a turtle.

I didn't come up completely empty.  I managed to anger this momma mallard.

I didn't come up completely empty. I managed to anger this momma mallard.

But I clearly had gator fever.  Every splash, every rumble and every log was thought to be a gator by my brain.  It was completely infectious, I was convinced I’d see one around the next bend.  It got me to wondering about field research into mystery animals.  I can see how someone could easily get Big Foot Fever when out in a camp for the purpose of finding Big Foot.  How ever sound, every falling acorn, could become the creature you’re looking for and how hard it would be to stay objective and watch for real signs of your quarry.

So I learned alot about this project of mine.  Not all of it just about looking for Gators.  I learned using a kayak paddle in a canoe isn’t a good idea.  There is a reason canoes use canoe paddles and kayaks use kayak paddles.  I got that.  And I got to test out my new waterproof digital camera.  I’m pleased with the results, and the video isn’t half bad.

And now, I’ll leave you with a video of the point where I decided it was time to return to my car and slog back across Limestone Bay!

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10 thoughts on “First Attempt At Gator Hunting

  1. Certainly wasn’t a wasted trip if you at least learnt the pitfalls of eyewitness testimony (and paddles)! It’ll be interesting to see how your search goes.

  2. Is this part of Alabama in the subtropical part of the state or is it in the area that leans toward a more temperate climate?

    I’ve seen alligators in Eastern North Carolina, which is supposedly as far north as they get on the East Coast. However, we have colonial records of them making it above Norfolk, Virginia. Even today, one pops up in the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia side.

    In North Carolina, the gators are found not very far from the coast. They don’t do well in the Piedmont, where it gets too cold.

    • Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is in the northern part of the state, outside the “official” range of Alligators. Although they have been pushing north in the past decade and can be routinely found as far north as Tuscaloosa and Birmingham now. One of the reasons the state opened up hunting in the southern ranges is to cull the growing wild gator. It is filling up the old habitats and happily moving north to less populated (by gators anyway) regions.

      Right now it is believed that the gators can’t make their way around the dams to spread north, but those dams aren’t stopping the southern neighbors from moving along Alabama rivers. So I suspect if temperatures in this region continue to climb, the gator will be making its way back into territory previously abandoned.

  3. In a very round-about way, I came across your blog and I’ve really enjoyed reading it. This could have something to do with the fact that I am a dude in my mid 30s originally from North Alabama that is an avid paddler, owns a canoe and a kayak, and has a thing for alligators and crypto-organisms. Oh, and one of my favorite TV shows is “Chuck”.

    Since I now live within a few hundred feet of Mobile Bay, I get to see gators ALL of the time. I saw 10 or so just this weekend in the Delta. Most were in the 4′ range – one was probably 8′. If you ever get a chance, take the airboat tour of the Delta from the Five Rivers Center on the Mobile Bay causeway.

    I grew up near Lake Guntersville. There were always stories of people seeing gators and, of course, catching the occasional piranha… never did anyone have personal experience – it was always their cousin’s best friend’s barber or something.

    • Dude! Let’s hook up! I’d love to paddle that area. What kind of canoe and kayak you have? Ever make it back up here? We could hit the Flint, it’d be tame compared to your sights down south, but could be fun if you’re here.

      • That would be awesome. I’ve got a cheapo Sam’s Club special canoe (can’t even remeber the name off the top of my head but it’s not an Old Town or Mad River or anything) and a used Old Town 14′ tandem kayak (I really don’t own it but I’ve “holding” it for a friend for a really long time). If our yard sale does extremely good this weekend, I think I’m going to get a 12′ Wilderness Systems Pungo that a local boat shop has on sale.

        A few weeks ago, three buddies and I were scheduled to do Overnight Route #1 of the Bartram Canoe Trail (http://www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/bartram/trailmenu.htm#Bartram Canoe Land Based Campsite). This trip includes going to a remote 50′ Indian mound on an island in the Delta. Lots of gators in this area but probably not as many as in the upper reaches of Mobile Bay. Unfortunately we got rained out but plan on going when it gets cooler. My next planned trip in early August is a 24-mile overnighter down the Blackwater River near Milton, Florida with a group of frinds. This is a great river to overnight on (can also do the Jupiter and Coldwater Creeks nearby) – swift clear water, white sandy bottom, bugs aren’t too bad, plenty of large sandbars to camp on, usually don’t see but a few others on the first day.

        We go to north AL 3-4 times a year. It’s not easy to bring a canoe or kayak but I do have a cousin living across from my parents that has a couple of kayaks I could borrow. Never been to Flint River but have heard it’s cool. Ever been down Locust Fork or Town Creek (High Falls down to Guntersville Lake – go here http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/81/ and select “Photos”)? These are places I’ve always wanted to do.

  4. Runwolf, If you really want to see a pic of a North Alabama gator, I have a couple that my wife and I took of about 10 footer on June 25 of this year. I’ll gladly send them to you if you leave me your e-mail address.

    –Ritchie

  5. I have seen several gators at wheeler NWR. I have seen several babies 6-8″ long and one about 8′. one about 5′ and a couple about 3′. Flint Creek on the south side of the River is a good place to look as is Limestone cove near Mooresville. Part of the problem is that the locals shoot them whenever they get the chance. So if a gator is not shy it is quickly dead!! Gators are sneaky and will lie at the surface with just their eyes showing. I found two babies that were dead with their tails missing.

    • If the locals are really killing the gators, that’s horrible. It’s also illegal. I would hope the local game warden is watching out for that, but I imagine not. It’s a fairly serious crime.

      I’ve looked in Limestone Bay. I’m assuming that they hang out in the northern parts, where it gets shallower and swampy. Is there a good place to put in to be close to them? Arrowhead Landing is so far out on the open water part of the bay, and is a long haul to the backwaters.

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