SEBRING — In 2015, Crockett and Monica Turner snagged a gold mine for alligator hunters: A 11.5-footer that was more than 500 pounds.
“Everybody on the boat was shaking with ‘buck fever,’” Monica Turner said. “It was a fiasco and a chase. I didn’t stop shaking for two hours.”
Wearing the animal down took two hours on the Kissimmee River in 32-foot-deep water, in the one spot their Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission alligator hunt permits allowed. They sold the animal to a processor, which just about paid for the FWC permits. He gave them the skull to mount.
That night, they also got “a freezer full of meat” from some 7- to 9-foot alligators — with better meat than the bigger, tougher animals, Crockett Turner said.“We used every bit of the ‘gator,” Monica Turner said.
Without that, the hunt would’ve cost too much.
The Turners live on 43 acres on State Road 66 with their four children, ages 16, 14, 12 and 10. They’ve fished fresh and saltwater and have hunted deer, hog and alligator, as a couple and as a family.
The cost of state permits and gasoline to and from the designated hunting site now outweighs any benefit from the meat, they said.
Since 1988, FWC has invited hunters to an “annual statewide recreational alligator harvest” — night hunts in the summer. People pay an application fee, ask for hunting sites and times, and get assigned by a lottery.
The FWC Alligator hunting guide states that it helps FWC manage alligator population, now estimated at 1.3 million.
“If you don’t regulate ‘gators, they’ll take over,” Crockett Turner said.
Worse than alligators are pythons, he said. The FWC has tried to hire people to hunt them. They are also expensive — more than $200 in gas to run a boat all day — and like alligators, seem to know they’re safe in state parks.
Alligators know when a hunt starts, from unusual boat activity, and go where they’re safe, he said, such as the off-limits spots in and south of Avon Park Air Force Range.
On the river there, Crockett Turner has seen 30 or more 12-foot alligators to a sandbar, “stacked like logs.”
In 2015, the Turners and three friends hunted “Pod E,” a three-mile stretch of Kissimmee River straddled by State Road 70. They used a 25-foot-long, 8-foot-wide flat boat with a 200-hp Johnson outboard motor. Banks were steep, with no place to pull in, Crockett Turner said, with 32-foot deep water.
He said they used a weighted treble hook with a heavy-duty fishing rod to snag the animal.
The FWC allows bows, crossbows, gigs, harpoons, spears or spear guns, attached to a restraining line and capable of penetrating the hide. Other allowed methods are a fishing pole with a weighted treble hook or artificial lure; meat-baited less than two inch wooden pegs on a fishing pole or hand-held line; or hand-held snatch hooks, catch poles or snares.
Bang sticks are allowed. The metal pole has a pressure trigger on the end. It shoots a .45-caliber bullet into the animal’s brain when the end makes contact.
Bang sticks may only be used once the animal is on a restraining line.
With a treble hook, Crockett Turner said, the hunter has to snag an alligator on a part of its body — a leg or torso, maybe between ribs.“If I had him in the mouth, I could control him,” Crockett Turner said.
Monica Turner said a hunter can spot eyes in the distance, but once they dive, they’re gone. You can’t harpoon them, and won’t swallow a peg. She and her husband think the peg is useless.“It’s definitely not the most efficient way,” Monica Turner said.
When asked if he’d figured how much he paid per pound in gas, time and effort for alligator meat in the last big hunt, Crockett Turner said, “There’s some things you don’t want wanna know.”
He said, he’d rather catch a “stinking wild hog” than an alligator. It’s easier to clean, Monica Turner said. Plus, wild hogs are more of a nuisance.
Two years ago, FWC started issuing countywide hunting/trapping licenses. Residents can hunt any body of water that’s not part of the annual hunt.
That’s fine with Crockett Turner. Last year on private land, they caught two 10-foot alligators. It was better than rivers or Lake Istokpoga, he said: Alligators are not on their guard.
They figure they’ll stick with the countywide license and give up on the annual hunt.
“We’ve done it for three years,” Monica Turner said. “We’re a family. We’ve got bills and priorities. We can’t donate money to FWC. You don’t get your money’s worth.”
The Turner children, from left, Lantana, Glade, Mandolin and Vidalia, pose with an 11.5-foot alligator their parents hunted, caught and killed the last time they participated in the lottery-based hunt run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.