Written by James H. Phillips
Wednesday, 22 April 2009 10:45
Goshen attorney John Ulmer explains his reptilian adventure this way:
His wife, Carol, was planning a winter vacation in Florida. It called for them to spend several weeks in Bonita Beach, a town on the lower Gulf Coast that Ulmer described as consisting solely of “traffic, condos and shopping centers.”
It is not a milieu designed to attract outdoorsmen.
“I had to do something,” related the veteran big-game hunter.
His eye caught a magazine advertisement for Central Florida Trophy Hunts, an outfit based in Cocoa. It featured alligator hunts. He made a phone call.
It is why Ulmer recently found himself driving across Florida, momentarily escaping the traffic, condos and shopping centers. (Ulmer, who has hunted big game on five continents, prefers to shop at the annual Safari Club convention in Reno, Nev., where various outfitters, custom arms dealers and so on set up display booths.)
Prior to this time, Ulmer had never entertained the idea of hunting alligators. A few decades ago Florida’s alligators had declined to the point some feared for their survival. But protective legislation produced a population explosion.
Today, Florida’s alligators are crawling up on lawns and snatching Grandma from her flower garden. They are devouring pet dogs romping in their backyards. Waterfowl hunters in particular tell horrible tales of losing Labrador retrievers swimming out to fetch downed ducks.
The toothy reptiles have become a deadly menace.
In an effort to keep the population in check, Florida has instituted an alligator hunting season. It also issues permits to private landowners to kill alligators on their property outside of the hunting season.
Ulmer hunted under a private land-owner permit.
Ulmer met his guide, Grayson Padrick, in mid-afternoon near Vero Beach. Padrick is a mechanical engineer who guides part-time and works full-time for NASA at Cape Canaveral.
The two headed out into citrus country, the flat landscape north of Lake Okeechobee that features “thousands upon thousands of acres of citrus trees,” Ulmer related.
Their destination focused on a grove adjacent to a reservoir that featured a network of canals. As Padrick explained, “This is a new property to us that has a ton of alligators.”
“We will start the hunt by riding around the reservoir and looking for ‘gators to shoot,” Padrick said. The law allows hunters to use high-powered rifles only during daylight hours.
“If by dark we have not killed one we will put the boat in the water and hunt with crossbows,” he continued. “I imagine that we will be done before dark.”
They arrived at the property, detached their trailered airboat and sighted in a .270 rifle. Then they began slowly driving along a canal.
Along the way they encountered a hunter with a compound bow. The hunter was wrestling to shore a protesting alligator attached to a line attached to an arrow. (He had earlier missed 10 or 11 gators.) The event was being filmed for television.
As they drove along they saw “several 3-, 4- and 5-foot alligators.” Some were snoozing on the sun-drenched bank. Others were floating motionless on the surface of the water, only their nose and eyes visible.
Some of the small gators ignored the pick-up. Others raced down the bank into the water or, if already in the water, quickly submerged, he added.
Then suddenly they glimpsed a big gator sunning itself on the opposite bank. Padrick stepped on the brakes, then backed up until they were out of sight. The two got out and made their approach. Ulmer gripped his .270.
Padrick earlier had stressed the necessity for a brain shot to provide an instant kill and prevent the ‘gator from escaping, explaining that the bullet should strike the ‘gator two or three inches behind its eye.
When they again came within view of the ‘gator, Ulmer sat down on the ground to brace his rifle. Padrick had an optical range-finder. He informed Ulmer the reptile was 70 to 75 yards distant.
Ulmer took careful aim behind its eye.
“I pulled the trigger,” he said.
The rifle bucked with recoil. A sharp boom shattered the silence of the citrus grove.
“The ‘gator didn’t move.”
The shot proved to be an instant kill.
The reptile measured 8 feet, 2 inches in length. Its hide is now being tanned.