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Pike County trio hunts, dispatches alligator

Crocodile Dundee’s got nothing on Alligator D.Z.

With a little help from his fiancée and a friend, Danny Zapata “wrestled” a gator out of the waters of the Conecuh River and, after nearly three hours, dispatched it. The gator’s been processed and a gator party is in the works for Labor Day weekend.

Zapata makes no bones about it, pulling a gator in the boat was about as exciting as anything he’s done on the water and Zapata is quite an experienced outdoorsman. He’s hung trophy fish, snagged snapping turtles, gigged frogs and even caught a “cat” that was so big it had a baby gator in its belly. But the one thing that he wanted to do was “catch a gator.”

When the Alabama Department of Game and Fish instituted “gator season” in 2008, Zapata was in the hunt for a gator tag but it wasn’t until this gator season that he had an opportunity to gator hunt.

“The first year of gator season, the state issued 40 gator tags and the ‘season’ was only three days,” said Zapata of Brundidge. “Last year, 80 tags were issued and the season was extended to 10 days. This year, 120 tags were issued and the season ran from Aug. 13 to Aug. 29.

“To be eligible for the ‘lottery’ you have to apply between the June and July dates and pay a six-dollar fee. Then they draw out the names and, if you are lucky enough, to have your name drawn, you still have to go to gator school and graduate to get the tag.”

Zapata wasn’t lucky enough but his fiancée, Sandy Deal, was and that was all the luck he needed.

“The person with the tag is required to be on the hunt,” Zapata said, laughing. “I got to go along on Sandy’s tag. I attended gator school with her.”

A friend, Tray Dansby, hunts with Zapata and was along Friday night for the gator hunt on the Conecuh River.

“We had been to Eufaula the weekend before and saw about 30 gators but didn’t get one,” Zapata said. “But Friday night, we saw a gator after only about five minutes in the water. It was under a tree and I shot it with my bow and arrow but its skin was so tough that the arrow didn’t penetrate. But that unnerved it and it struck out. We chased it for more than two hours before I got a line on it.”

Zapata said he was using an eight-foot, deep-sea fishing rod with a 100-pound test line and a 12/0 hook.

“What you do is throw the line over the gator and snatch the hook into it,” he said. “I got mine in and Tray threw his line, snatched and hooked. The gator put up a good fight and it took about 20 minutes or more for us to get it up to the boat where we could get a noose, a 1,000-pound steel cable, around its mouth. After that, I dispatched it.”

The seven-foot, 150-pound gator was covered with mud and moss and, more than likely, its share of bacteria from the river water.

“We took it to a car wash and brushed and cleaned it for the ride home,” Zapata said, with a smile. “We iced it down and took it to Eufaula to a man that processes gators. He’s had quite a few this year, one a 13-footer and another was 12 feet. So, it’s been a good gator season. I think that next year, more tags will be issued and the season extended because there are a lot of gators out there and they are a challenge to hunt.”

Zapata said gator hunting is good on the backwaters and creeks of Alabama.

“Down around the Yellow River, it’s slap full of gators,” he said.

“Outside of man, gators don’t have any predators, expect when they’re young. Gators breed once year and will lay about 30 eggs. The mother gator will put the eggs in sand to keep them warm and cover them with sand and moss. The eggs will hatch by themselves. Fish, cranes and turtles will eat the gators when they are small but, when they get any size, nothing wants to have anything to do with them.”

Zapata said once the season is extended and more tags are issued, he thinks interest in gator hunting will increase.

“Alligator is good meat,” he said. “It tastes like chicken and you can fix it a lot of ways. You can substitute gator for any recipe that calls for chicken.

Contrary to what some might think, Zapata said the tail is not the only gator meat.

“Actually, you can eat the legs, ribs, neck and there’s good tenderloin down the back,” he said.

“I’m going to fry mine. And, I’ll have the hide tanned for a wallet or purse. I’ll probably have the head mounted. That gator had a good set of teeth. Nothing goes to waste on a gator.”