The swamps of Florida, where alligators weighing up to a half-ton lurk, are about as far away as one can get from the high plains, Red Desert and mountains of Wyoming where hunters pursue elk.
A Florida-based outdoorsman’s group is hoping to link the two states and the pursuits of elk hunting and gator hunting.
Florida resident and seasoned gator hunter Matthew Burke is a founding member of the 10 Can Inc. Christian Adventure Network. The group specializes in guiding gator hunts for veterans, first responders and their families. And they’re looking for hunting partners in Wyoming.
“We do a mentorship program. You teach us about elk hunting, teach us about hunting in Wyoming. In exchange, we’ll teach you how to alligator hunt,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
‘I Just Gave It Up To God’
Burke said his group isn’t overtly religious, but his faith gave him the inspiration to launch the program.
He served in the Air Force for 13 years, and was hurt during his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.
At first, coming home and trying to readjust was one of the lowest points of is life. He was struggling with the lasting effects of his injury and disappointed with the lack of support he was getting from the government.
“At one point I was near suicide. I just gave it up to God and said, ‘I’m not a slave to the V.A. anymore,’” he said.
That’s when he got the inspiration to help others through his lifelong passion for hunting and the outdoors.
10 Can Inc. has connections in other states, and would like to start building a network in Wyoming, another member from Florida, Bill Commander, told Cowboy State Daily.
“We’re just trying to build a bridge into a new area of the country, and make new friendships,” he said.
Burke said there’s nothing quite like gator hunting.
“It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. It’s like hunting and fishing combined,” he said. “Theres nothing like the feeling when you hook on to a prehistoric creature and he just runs with your line.”
Gator hunters go out on boats and try to hook the immense reptiles with baited lines.
It’s not unusual for them to be 7 feet long, Burke said. Real monsters can grow up to 13 feet or so and weigh north of 1,000 pounds.
“If a gator is from a river, he’s probably going to be long and skinny. And if he’s from a lake, there’s a good chance he’s going to be fat,” Burke said.
If hunters can pull the gator in close enough, they harpoon it.
“As you harpoon it, you get it up next to the boat, and then you get them in the back of the head with a bang stick,” Burke said.
A bang stick is a device with a firearm cartridge loaded into a tube at the end. Shoving the stick drives a firing pen into the cartridge primer, which sets it off.
Gator hunters typically load bang stick with common cartridges, such as .223 Remington or .44 Remington magnum, Burke said. Shotgun shells are also sometimes used.
‘We Use All The Parts’
Bagging a gator is just the start. Processing the carcass is an art in and of itself, and the members of 10 Can Inc. are eager to show Wyoming hunters how.
“We use all the parts of the alligator. We can mount their heads or skulls, and tan out their hides,” Burke said.
Trinkets can be fashioned from alligator bones, and the hides can be used to make boots, wallets or other items.
“The feet can be used to make mug holders,” Burke said.
Butchering alligator meat can be tricky and is and often best left up to professional meat processors, Commander said.
“Alligator fat is different from the fat on other animals. It tastes awful,” he said.
While the meat from younger alligators can be tender enough to make steaks, the meat from older, bigger gators can be tough, and is best cubed for stew or ground for sausage, he added.
“As far as whole pieces, like steak, you can get away that on the smaller ones, but definitely not a bigger gator,” he said.
Florida’s gator season typically runs from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1, Commander said.
Commander said he’s been through Wyoming once, and was utterly amazed with the sheer size of the landscapes. His wife drew deer and elk tags in Montana, and they traveled through the Cowboy State and visited Yellowstone National Park during their trip.
Applying for hunting tags in Wyoming and other Western states is complicated, he said. So, mentoring from Wyoming hunters in that process would be much appreciated.
Commander added that he’s eager to return to Wyoming, and equally enthusiastic about showing Western hunters around the gator-rich waters of Florida.
“Alligator hunting for you might be like us trying to go to Wyoming and hunt elk all on our own, if we’ve never done it. Where do you even start?” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.