Imagine, if you dare, that you have just spent 20 of the last 30 hours alligator hunting, and the other eight or 10 hours working in a hayfield in the summer heat.
Then add in that you have just helped your brother Dustin Bockman subdue a monster gator, so big that at 727 pounds it now holds the Mississippi state record for heaviest alligator ever taken during a hunting season. That battle was an eight-hour ordeal, a good bit of which you spent on a rope in a tug of war with the behemoth.
OK, got it? Think you deserve to take a break to relax a minute?
Ryan Bockman sure thought so, so he took a seat on the only place he could find on a muddy bank of the Mississippi River — on the gator.
“I was standing about knee deep in the mud, and I was so tired, just worn out,” Ryan Bockman said. “So I just sat down on the back of that alligator. It was the only place I could find.”
The 13-foot, 4 ½-inch bull gator, which had been shot three times in the head at point-blank range with a 20-gauge shotgun, certainly provided a good seat. Its belly measured 67 inches around.
“Then, all of a sudden, it started walking up the bank,” Ryan Bockman said. “No, I’m not kidding you. He took about three or four steps, then collapsed back down. He was dead; he just didn’t know it.”
And, for a moment, neither did the hunting party, which consisted of the two Bockmans and friend Cole Landers, all of Vicksburg.
“It was scary, a little bit scary; I’m not going to lie to you,” Ryan Bockman said. “I really wasn’t all that worried because we had his mouth taped shut and had him roped up so he couldn’t really swing around and hit me or anything.
“But just for good measure, we took out a big knife and finished him off by severing his spinal cord at the base of the skull. Then, he was done.”
That wasn’t the end of the ordeal.
“Of course, we still had several hours of work to do, but first we just stopped, fell out and laid out for a couple of hours,” brother Dustin said.
The trio deserved a break. The first two nights of the Mississippi season had taken its toll.
“My brother and I both got drawn,” Dustin Bockman said. “I got drawn for the Southwest Zone and he got drawn in the West Central Zone. On Friday night, we went to his area to Dump Lake where we’d heard there were some really big gators, and there are.
“But we didn’t do any good with them. The lake is pretty shallow and we were just using a trolling motor, and every time we’d try to get on one, he’d start moving and we’d run into or up on a stump.”
After a few hours, they left and went to the Yazoo River, where they did hook up with a big gator but couldn’t do anything with it.
“About an 11-footer,” Ryan Bockman said.
They quit at sunrise and planned to start the second night, around sunset at 8 p.m., on the Mississippi River in the area around the mouth of the Big Black River. They drove down to Port Gibson and launched at the public landing.
“We really didn’t do any scouting down there, but we have spent a lot of time on the water there, fishing and all, and we knew that a lot of big gators hang out in that area,” Dustin Bockman said. “We didn’t have one picked out, so we really weren’t targeting one.”
They spotted the big one at 1 a.m., cruising along the bank of the Big Muddy. A two-hour chase followed.
“We’d see him and he’d go under and show up somewhere else,” Dustin Bockman said. “We’d almost get close enough for a shot; then he’d go under. We kept this up for two hours, but when you chase them like that, the more you chase them the more they have to come up for oxygen.
“We kept getting closer every time. Finally, he came up about 10 yards from us, and I got the shot.”
Dustin Bockman was using a crossbow with a line tied to a buoy, a homemade device cleverly crafted for the job.
“It was one of those three-liter Ozarka water jugs filled with some bells so we could hear it and with broken glow sticks so we could see it,” Dustin Bockman said. “The bow was an old Jaguar Crossbow I bought at a pawn shop the night before the season, just in case we needed it.”
Good idea, because it sure came in handy.
His first shot hit the gator in the back, just behind the left front leg. The arrow stuck and the battle was on, and it got exciting from the very start.
“Well, when I shot him, he took off running down the river,” Dustin Bockman said. “We had the rope coiled up in the front of the boat, and he was taking it so fast. The rope got wrapped on a rod and reel we had laying in the boat, and that became a problem.
“So I picked it up — the rod and reel — and I threw it in the water. Yep, I threw it overboard because I was scared that if he kept pulling it, it could break everything else we had in the boat, like all our good rods.”
His brother laughed at the memory of that.
“He just picked it up and threw it over,” Ryan Bockman said. “It was in the spur of the moment, but the funny thing was that it was the cheapest rod we had. We didn’t get it back.”
Consider it a sacrifice to the cause, and considering the pitfalls that were to come, it was good to have any positive karma they could get.
Chasing the buoy, the guys finally got in position to make a cast with another rod.
“It was another cheap old rod, a 10-year-old Wal-Mart special, and I have no idea what kind,” Dustin Bockman said. “But I got a good throw and snagged the gator with a big hook, so we had two lines on him.”
That advantage lasted about 90 minutes.
“After an hour and a half, though, he was running a bank and the fishing line got caught up in some tree limbs,” Dustin Bockman said. “So we had to cut it.”
That left only the original buoy rope with the arrow from the crossbow still attached to the gator.
“But he was getting tired, and we got the line and using that, we pulled him up to the boat,” Dustin Bockman said.
Sounds easy enough, at least easy to say, doesn’t it?
“It wasn’t; that gator was huge, and he was tough,” Ryan Bockman said. “It took everything we had, but finally we got him up and were able to get a rope (noose, hanging from a bamboo pole) around its head. Well, it was sort of around its head, more like in its mouth just in front of its eyes.”
The cable/rope was secure, and that was a good thing.
“As soon as we got it snared, the line from the arrow broke,” Dustin Bockman said. “I mean, it broke as soon as we did it. There was a moment of panic, but we were lucky.”
Fortunately, the gator was tiring. The men were running on adrenaline, and about all the alligator had left on its side was size.
“I had the rope, and I held on and started pulling while they were scrambling around trying to get the shotgun out of the case and get it loaded,” Ryan Bockman said. “I was sitting down with my feet against the rail, pulling with everything I had. It was so heavy.”
Finally, the gun was ready and Dustin Bockman was in position to the take the shot. The trouble was getting the gator into proper position.
“I was trying to get its head up for the shot, but it was not cooperating and, let me tell you, it was a strange feeling,” Ryan Bockman said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen in those moments.
“I was trying to keep him out from boat, but to do that you have to lean out, and you didn't want to fall in. So I sat back down on my butt and just pulled.”
The gator wouldn’t come to the surface and, with everybody reaching their limits, Dustin Bockman made a decision.
“He just stuck the barrel about 2 inches under the surface, almost against the alligator’s head and pulled the trigger,” Ryan Bockman said. “Well, it blew up the barrel, you know, it mushroomed like you see in the cartoons. The worst part of that was that we had to shoot him two more times with that gun.
“We thought he was done after the first shot, but he started swimming off, and we had to pull him back up.”
With the mushroomed barrel of the 20-gauge shotgun, Dustin Bockman put two more loads of 7 ½ shot in its head.
The battle was over — but the work was far from finished.
“That was about 4:30 or 5 o’clock,” Dustin Bockman said. “We were about 20 yards from the bank of the river, so we just pulled him over to the bank. If you know anything about the Mississippi River, you know that after a long fall (of the water level), the banks get extremely muddy if you are not on a sandbar, and we were not.
“When we got to the bank and got him pulled over, we were standing, like, knee deep in the water and there was no way we could get him in the boat. We tried for an hour and made no progress, so we took a break and just rested.”
After calling some friends at home, requesting immediate help, the three men tied the gator to the boat and motored down to a sandbar where they could move more freely.
“Then we just laid out and took a two-hour nap while our friends were getting their boat, heading to the river, launching and coming to get us,” Dustin Bockman said. “When they got there, it took all five of us about an hour to get that alligator into the boat.
“You watch those 'Swamp People' on TV and you see two guys load a gator that the announcer says weighs 500 or 600 pounds; well, let me tell you, that ain’t the case.”
By the time they reached the ramp and got the boat, with the behemoth still on its deck, on the trailer, it was 11 a.m. They had been on the water 15 hours.
It was worth it.
“I got on the phone and called Mr. Ricky,” Dustin Bockman said, referring to Ricky Flynt, the biologist who heads the alligator program for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Fortunately for us, he was already over in Vicksburg and was headed to Mahannah (Wildlife Management Area) to weigh another gator. So we just headed straight there.”
Turns out, Flynt had driven to Vicksburg to verify a new state record — only it was another gator, of which the story of the hunt is forthcoming on this site.
“First thing I did was certify a new record at 723 ½ pounds (that was) caught by Beth Trammel of Madison,” Flynt said. “That was our first alligator taken by hunters to go over 700 pounds (the old record was 697.5 pounds). But that record lasted only an hour.
“The Bockmans brought their gator in, and it weighed 727 pounds. It is the new record. This was a crazy day. I weighed another one at 673 pounds.”
Mississippi’s public lands alligator season continues through noon on Sept. 9, giving the Bockman team a chance to get the three gators they need to “tag out.”
That can wait.
“We’re going home and going to bed,” Dustin Bockman said. “We’re tired. We need three alligators — my runt gator (under 7 feet) and Ryan’s two in the West Central.
“We will do that next weekend.”
Who can blame them? The monster alligator had given them quite a ride in the early hours of Sunday morning, including the short walk up the bank, with Ryan Bockman on its back.
Flynt laughed when he heard that story.
“I’ve seen gators do that before,” Flynt said. “It’s more a muscle and nerve reaction. We call it ‘the walk to heaven.’”