A local guide shares his gator tales; also offers quail hunts and bow fishing.
By Lynn Hobbs
On the Swamp People television series, the hunters pursue alligators in Louisiana during daylight hours and use rifles to “choot ‘em.” But in Georgia, alligators are hunted in the darkness of night and it is illegal to use or possess rifles on the boat.
Hunting alligators at night is the ideal situation, according to Michael Evans, the hunting guide/owner of Cherry Hill Hunting Preserve in Hancock County. Evans provides everything needed to hunt alligator, including “enough lights to light up the world,” the boat, lines, weapons and, most importantly, the experience and knowledge of where the alligators hang out. In his many years of guiding hunts, all of Evans' clients have successfully come back with an alligator except one, and that one involved atypical circumstances, he said.
Describing a hunt, Evans said he shines a Q-beam light around the water to look for the gator’s eyes, which are red from the reflected light.
“Once you find one, they usually go under water before you can take a shot,” the self-dubbed Hunter Extraordinaire said. “So, you have time to just sit there and tell stories while you’re waiting for them to come back up.”
It can take a couple of hours for the large reptile to resurface, but Evans has more than enough gator-hunting stories to pass the time. He was literally born to hunt. “My daddy took my mama squirrel hunting when she was seven months pregnant with me and they got lost in the swamp, and my grandma swears that got me hooked on hunting,” he said. Mike got so good at shooting squirrels and other small wildlife at the age of 5, that his mother would only allow him to shoot what he could eat. The shooting competition trophies now displayed on every shelf and in every nook and cranny all over his house, in the hunting clubhouse and stored in bins in closets, are testament to his skill and accuracy.
Evans hunts or has hunted all the typical wild game in North America. His affinity for alligators developed when he worked for DNR in McIntosh County. There, he accompanied Game Warden George Still on alligator nuisance calls. “And he’d call the gators to him and they’d literally swim into the noose so we could relocate them,” Evans said. “So, he kind of got me hooked on it and when Georgia came out with the first alligator hunting season (in 2003), I was ready.”
Although they once were a near-extinct, protected species, there are now approximately 200,000 to 250,000 alligators in Georgia, where they typically live along and south of the fall line traversing the cities of Columbus, Macon, and Augusta, according to Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division. Any gators seen north of the fall line have probably been relocated there by humans. With the “total protection” status removed, Georgia permits quota hunting in which a limited number of hunters are allowed to harvest one alligator from a specified hunt zone.
The most difficult part of the hunt is acquiring a tag. Evans said it can take several years to get a tag once you apply for it. Evans guides hunts on the Savannah River in Zones 9, 8, and 5. “The biggest gator we got so far this year was under somebody’s boat dock in downtown Augusta on the river,” he said, commencing his storytelling as if we were in a boat waiting for a gator to resurface. With a wry smile, Evans said the big gator was bagged the night before the city’s annual Ironman competition in the location of the swimming portion of the race.
The dock owner gave his permission, and Evans described how his client, a man from Illinois, got a line on the alligator, and the triumph of discovering how large it was. “It was 7-ft., 11-inches,” Evans said. “Two years back, we got a 10-ft., 3-inch one in that area, and an 8-footer last year. They grow a foot every year the first two to three years, then they slow down. So, big alligators are hard to come by, but there’s still a bunch of them out there. We’ve been seeing 25-30 a night, but none bigger than 8-feet,” he added.
As far as weight, Evans estimates the heaviest gator killed by his clients was 563 pounds. “It was 11-ft., 3-inches, but was missing about a foot of its tail,” he said. “And it had a whole deer in its belly, and a half of a trout.”
“We go down the river shining a Q-beam, looking for the eyes,” Evans said. “You look between the eyes and nose, and every inch equals a foot in length of the alligator. I know where the big alligators hang out, and you have to be within 20 yards to see between the nose and the eyes to see if it’s big enough.” This sparked another story of the previous weekend. Evans estimates this particular gator was a 13-footer. “And it had a big gar in his mouth, and my client shot the arrow in the fish,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I’d pull the fish in and retrieve my arrow, but I got resistance and the gator went down in the log jam somewhere. …. Turns out the arrow had gone through the gar but also through the gator’s lip. … Hunting alligators is a roller coaster ride with all the highs and lows. … We worked trying to get another arrow/line in him for another four hours, but we ended up leaving it and we’re going again Friday night to try and get him.”
In Georgia, the hunter must have control of the alligator with a restraining line before it can be dispatched. Methods to attach a restraining line include hand-held snares, harpoons, gigs, snatch hooks, or arrows. Evans provides either a bow or crossbow with a Gator Aider for his clients. He also has compound bows. He uses Muzzy tips, and they typically attach two lines to ensure they have good control.
Once the animal is adequately restrained and brought adjacent to the boat, it may be killed by discharging a bangstick or any caliber handgun at the base of the skull. The weapon should be aimed at the brain, angled slightly forward from the rear of the skull, according to DNR. Improper placement can only knock the animal temporarily unconscious.
“They always bite the side of the boat and that’s when it really gets exciting,” Evans said. “The brain is smaller than a marble on a 7-foot gator, and you can’t shoot between the eyes because it’s all bone and can’t hurt them.”
Evans said once the alligator is in the boat, his job is done. “It’s your gator then, and you have to get somebody to cut it up,” he explained. He recommends using a professional, licensed processor such as Drew Copelan at The Meat Shed in Eatonton. “He’s the cheapest and the best; he does a really good job,” Evans said.
Evans also recommends sending the hide to a tanner. He uses Sebring Custom Tanning in Florida. Then he recommends sending it to Cowtown Boots in Texas. “They made me this pair of boots I’m wearing, a belt and three wallets out of one gator hide for about $250-$300,” he said.
In addition to alligator hunting, Evans provides bow fishing trips during the summer on the Savannah River, Clarks Hill Lake, and lakes Oconee and Sinclair.
His biggest business is quail hunts on his Cherry Hill Hunting Preserve in Hancock County. “It’s as close to wild bird hunting as you can get and still be guaranteed to shoot some quail,” he said. He raises his quail in Johnny Houses, and the wild ones fly out when he raises the roof. “So, they’ve got all their wits about them and haven’t been dizzied up in a pillowcase like other hunt places use to move their quail,” he said.
Like gator hunting, Evans provides everything needed to hunt quail, including champion dogs. A clubhouse is on the property for guests who need to stay overnight.
To hunt gator or quail, or go bowfishing with Evans, visit his website, www.letshunt.net, or call 706-444-7110. All hunters must have their licenses and tags before contacting Evans.
Story written by Lynn Hobbs, photos contributed by Michael Evans, printed in the 2021-2022 Outdoors magazine, published by Smith Communications, Inc.