It didn’t take long for Mississippi’s state alligator record to fall.
Last night — opening night of the public waters season — three friends hunting together in the Southwest Zone took a 756-pound gator in an area they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, identify.
Brandon’s Robert Mahaffey, the permit holder, and friends Jay Leggette and Scott Berry of Raymond, beat the 741.5-pounder caught last year by Lee Turner of Madison.
“We hooked up with him at about 6 a.m. and we had him subdued and shot within about 30 minutes,” said Mahaffey, who along with Leggette works for the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office. “Seriously, it looked like he was worn out when we got on him.”
Certainly, the hunters were tired.
“We had already caught our two runt gators (under 7 feet) and I had tagged a 10½ footer that weighed 500 pounds,” said Leggette, who also had a tag in the Southwest Zone. “The 500-pounder broke three rods. He broke two on the first run he made and then broke another on a log.
“We figured that it lost about a foot or a foot and a half of tail, because he measured 12 inches from the bridge of his eyes to his nose. He was strong.”
And, he left the trio seriously short on equipment at 2 a.m.
“We took those gators back to where our trucks where, unloaded them and Scott stayed with them, and we ran up to Vicksburg to WalMart to buy two more rods,” Leggette said. “I think we got a 7-footer and a 7½- footer and I have no idea what kind. They were just the strongest they had.”
Back at the boat, they put the reels from the broken rods on the new ones, filled the boat back with gas, and headed back after another big gator.
It didn’t take long.
“Within a quarter mile, in the breaking sunshine, I saw this big head swimming down the creek in front of us,” Leggette said. “I could see how wide and big his head was and I turned to Robert and said this: ‘Scott, get your rod and don’t ask any questions.’”
Said Mahaffey: “That’s exactly what he said and I knew he meant business and I looked up and saw that alligator and I knew he was big.”
With the trolling motor on the front of the 16-foot War Eagle “duck boat” on wide open, it took them about a minute to get within 30 to 40 yards of the beast.
“Jay threw first and his cast was perfect, and I threw right behind him, within a second,” said Mahaffey. “I don’t think we could either have made better casts.”
Both weighted treble hooks found perfect spots — Leggette’s behind the right front leg and Mahaffey in the neck.
The two men — Berry was home resting for another round of hunting with friends Saturday night — described the 30-minute battle as sort of aho-hum experience.
“I mean he made a big run to start, but we pulled up the trolling motor and just let him pull us,” Leggette said. “But he didn’t got that far and only for about 30 minutes. The key was we were in open water and there was nothing for him to snag.”
After getting the beast beside the boat, Berry grabbed his bow and, aiming almost directly down, put an arrow in the middle of the gator’s back.
“That is with a 400-pound line, kind of security,” Leggette said.
Of course, arrows hurt and the gator was not happy. It took off and made a 50-yard run, which apparently was about all it had left.
“It decided to just go down and suck up on the bottom in 12 feet of water,” Mahaffey said. “We got on top of it and using only the rods, we pulled him up and Jay got a snare on its left front leg and I shot him with a 12-gauge shotgun, with a 7½ Federal Premium.
“Then I shot him again. Just for security”
After a brief celebration and a little rest, the real battle began.
“This is where the story gets funny,” said Leggette. “We couldn’t get the thing in the boat and we finally decided to hold the gator with the snare lines beside the boat, with his head at the front of his boat, and drag him in the water.”
That apparently is not as easy as it sounds.
“No! Absolutely it is not,” Mahaffey said. “Scott was running the boat, idle speed with a 50-hose outboard, while we held it tight to the boat. The guy at the front end is doing most of the work and we had to keep swapping out, and we had to stop a couple of times to take a break.”
Took them two hours.
“We came prepared, bringing an extra trailer we could back in the water and float a big gator on,” Leggette said. “We knew we were going to get a big one.”
Surprisingly, the new record gator for weight fell 5½ inches short of the record for length — 13 feet, 7 inches taken by Ben Walker of Madison County.
But what it lacked in length it made up for with amazing girth.
The tail was 45½ inches around; the belly was 67¼ inches around.
“Fat one,” said Ricky Flynt, the biologist who heads the alligator program for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, who certified the catch. “This is going to be an interesting week.”