By Joni Kiser Prois Staffer and Prois dealer at Full Curl Archer in Anchorage AK
“Joni. Seriously. What the hell are we doing out here?” Jayme whispered to me. There we were, kneeling down in tall grass in the edge of the swamp. Our guide, Glen, had left us there to go and set up an electronic alligator call off the the right of us, up the bank about 50 yards away. In the grass all around us were spiders. BIG spiders. Now to many, the fact that spiders creeped us out sounds silly, we were after all, tough Alaskan chicks. We were bear hunters. In fact in 2012, I took a Pope and Young Brown Bear with my bow, so if I could do that, then how in the world could a bunch of spiders freak me out? I guess it just depends what you are used to! We don’t have many spiders, let alone big poisonous ones in Alaska. We don’t have snakes or anything of that sort either. The things that can hurt you in the woods in Alaska are big, huge actually, and you can see them coming! They don’t crawl up on you without you knowing like these spiders that were as big as my fist were trying to do! Jayme was looking all around her in the weeds, trying to flip the spiders back away from crawling up on her. Glen started the baby alligator distress call and came back and we hunched down to wait.
Usually an alligator bowhunt is done out of a boat. It is a much safer alternative, its alot easier to get close and you have a far better opportunity for shot placement. But in my mind, a spot and stalk alligator hunt with a bow sounded alot more exciting! Over the course of the first 3 days of the hunt we tried calling them in from various locations, spotting them from afar sunning themselves on the bank and stalking in on them and were were having trouble getting within a good bow range. I knew I had the boat option as an alternative but I REALLY wanted to stick it out and get it on land. The alligators eye sight and hearing is great, so getting close enough for a good shot was tough; especially with the 850 grain arrow that is needed to punch through their thick hide. I needed to be 15 yards or less! The guide warned me that out of over 720 hunts that he had guided, he had only done 5 of the hunts as spot and stalk, and of those 5 – one got too freaked out and called it off. And these were all men, he had not ever had a woman do spot and stalk before. This just fueled me more. I was taking this beast on land up close and personal!
Day 4 we hiked out to a little peninsula that stuck out into a huge lake. We had seen several gators swimming in the lake and were going to try to call some in. We were walking single file down the bank and through the marshy grass. I looked down to my right and saw a snake sunning itself on the bank. I pointed down to my right and said “snake” softly over my shoulder to Jayme so she wouldn’t step on it. We walked another 10-15 ft and crouched down in the weeds. I whispered to the guide, “theres a snake right there in the weeds” and described its markings. He said, “oh its probably harmless,” but I could see the wheels turning in his head. A minute or 2 later he crawled over to the waters edge to take a look and came back and whispered, “Uh, guys, thats a Water Moccasin and their deadly, just don’t go over there, and keep an eye out.” Hmm… not too comforting for someone who had never seen a snake in the wild before! Jayme’s eyes were huge and she whispered to me, “couldn’t it just sneak over here in the weeds?” I shrugged, I really wanted a gator so I was just trying to not worry about it. The guide started calling and immediately the gators responded. We joked that he was the “Alligator Whisperer” because when he called vocally rather than using the electronic call – they would make a bee line for him! Right away we could see 5 different gators that were swimming towards us from all different directions. Now you have to imagine: you are on a thin peninsula sticking out with water on 3 sides of you, crouched down in tall grass you can barely see over with Big Old spiders crawling all around you, a deadly snake laying in the grass about 10 feet away and 5 different alligators are headed toward you – responding to a baby alligator call because they think he is in distress and they want to EAT him. I am not gonna lie, our hearts were pounding! One gator was now about 10 yards away out in the water, but everything was under except its eyes. Glen whispered, “thats a female, she’s real close, keep an eye on her she’s watching us.” Jayme’s nerves were getting the best of her and she said, “Oh hell no!” when she realized how close it was and started to slowly raise up and back up. I grabbed the back of her belt and pulled her back down in the weeds. “It can jump from there to here very quickly if it thinks you are food, stay down!” She looked white as a ghost. She kept looking back over her shoulder and I figured she was checking for the snake. Then she whispered, “there is one right behind us” and Glen says, “no I don’t think so.” He and I are focused on the one in front of us which was now moving forward to shore. Glen got a better look and said “she’s about 9 foot, I think you can do better.” About that time Jayme was frantically tapping on Glens shoulder looking behind her, “Glen! It is RIGHT there, I see its CLAW!” and her voice raised a little louder. Suddenly there wa a huge Splash! A gator spun and dove into the water. Not the one in front of us, but a huge one behind us, which Glen later estimated was close to 12 feet long. It had snuck up on land behind us! We were now all shaking, it had been less than 5 yards away, ovbiously watching us, and we hadn’t even known it was there! But there was no time to worry about that because we needed to deal with the one in front of us which now had its head up on shore and was only about 4 yards away. She would easily be able to jump from where she was to where we were in a moment. Glen whispered, “just shoot her right in the forehead.” “What?” I said, I was so confused. “Right in the head, you don’t have a good shot on her anyhow, but she isn’t backing off so that will scare her and she will just swim off.” He’s the gator whisperer so I didn’t argue, I drew and shot her right in the head. My 250 grain, razor sharp broadhead bounced off her like a rubber ball, not even breaking the skin. She spun around with a huge splash and swam off. Jayme and I looked at each other in disbelief, we were both shaking from the last 10 minutes of excitement and finally stood up and walked back up the hill. Jayme said, “my nerves are shot. I am just about over this, its really intense!”
At this point I knew she was wondering how in the world I talked her into coming with my on this hunt – for only her 2nd hunt ever, and I was feeling a little guilty for putting her in situations where she was afraid for her life! Meanwhile, my mind was racing. I’ve never bounced an arrow off anything in my life. Everything I have ever shot has been a full pass through. Glen explained that I did exactly what he wanted me to do and that he knew it was going to bounce off. He said “that isn’t where you would ever shoot to kill one and even a bullet will bounce off that dense area of the head”. We regrouped and set out for a different area but still in the back of my mind I was thinking, CAN I actually penetrate an alligators hide with my arrow? Maybe I am not pulling enough weight?” We spotted a gator quite a ways off across a lake sunning itself on shore. We hiked out around the end of the lake which took about 20 minutes, careful not to get winded, we came down from above it. This time Jayme stayed back up on the hill, her nerves were shot from 3 days of continuous close calls with gators and I wanted to be sure she was having fun on the hunt! She videoed my stalk down the hill. Glen and I snuck in to about 20 yards and the gator must have heard us in the grass because he spooked and dove into the water. My heart sank; but then he suddenly turned around! I crouched down in the weeds, which were over my head. He was just sitting out about 15 yards away in the water, facing me. Glen was about 5 yards behind me up the bank also crouched down. The gator was looking my direction and seemed to size me up huddled in the grass and decided that I looked like a pretty tasty little snack and he decided to come in for some lunch. I was thrilled that he was coming back to give me another chance. I slowly started to stalk in through the weeks towards the water. Later, Glen told me that he was really impressed with how my instincts took over without him being near me or saying anything, I just started stalking down the bank alone, staying low. He said as he watched me he imagined that I had inherited alot of my fathers natural knack for hunting. My father is a very experienced hunter but is now too ill to hunt anymore, so this comment really gave me a sense of pride. There is no greater compliment than to be compared to him.
The gator continued to come straight at me, but I felt really calm, everything seemed like it was happening in slow motion to me. As he climbed up on the bank and started to slither out toward me, I could see the look in his eyes so well. He was angry and aggressive and there was no doubt that he was planning to make a meal of me. This was the break that I needed to get close to a gator! When he closed the gap and got to 6 yards in front of me I raised up and drew and shot, no bounce off this time! The broadhead went all the way through. The gator broadheads are barbed so they won’t come back out and he spun and dove back into the water where he felt safe, as they do when shot on land. My arrow was stuck all the way through him and was attached with a cord to the reel on my bow. The line deployed from the reel as it should, but the buoy was supposed to pop off the end to float behind the gator so we could go find him but it jammed. Now I had a cord attached to my bow from a fleeing gator and my hand got caught in my wrist sling – due to the heavy tension on the attached line. As the gator swam away, it drug me down to the waters edge at a rapid pace. I could not get my hand out. I was stumbling along thinking, “oh my god I’m going in the water with a wounded alligator!” I yelled out, “Im stuck!” and Glen ran after me, grabbed the bow and pulled to relieve enough tension to get my hand out and then it pulled him out into the water up to his knees before he finally just broke the reel off the bow and tossed it into the water. The buoy floated out to the middle of the lake. Glen walked back up to where I was and we looked at each other and started to laugh, that nervous happy laugh that you do after you have just avoided a disaster. Jayme came down from the hill above us and videoed us as we hugged and I jumped around so thrilled that I had just taken my bucket list animal with a bow at 6 yards! We went and got the airboat on the trailer and went out to retrieve my gator from the middle of the lake. He measured an amazing 10.5 foot Much bigger than I had ever hoped for! I couldn’t be more thrilled with the whole experience. I feel proud that I wanted to do it the “hard” way, that I stuck to my goals and that I harvested an incredible Alligator, spot and stalk.