Give Scott Berry credit for his gator hunting skills; just don’t make it official credit.
For the second time over the extended holiday weekend, a Berry-led gator hunting party broke the Mississippi record for public waters season. Neither time was the 42-year-old, self-employed contractor the hunter of record.
The latest was a 792-pounder hooked just before midnight Monday by Berry’s friend Brian Montgomery of Starkville. It topped the 756-pounder caught by Robert Mahaffey of Brandon aboard Berry’s 16-foot War Eagle duck boat. Both came from streams feeding into the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg.
“This story needs to be about Scott Berry, because he is the alligator king,” said Montgomery, 38, a crop insurance agent and longtime friend of Berry. “He’s the best around, and I think these two records prove that.”
It was Montgomery’s first alligator hunt, and he was fortunate enough to be drawn in the Southwest Zone, which is known for its giant reptiles. His first call was to Berry when he got his confirmation.
“We’d been talking about going for years but it took that long to get drawn,” Montgomery said. “I knew he was good, but this, this is crazy.”
How good is Berry?
“I had four friends who got permits in the Southwest Zone, and we’ve already tagged out,” Berry said. “That’s two gators each for four hunters.”
Along with Jesse Phillips of Starkville, Berry and Montgomery hit the water around 6 p.m. Monday and quickly caught and killed a 5-footer — the limit is two, and one of those must be between 4 and 7 feet in length. Then, the trio went monster hunting.
“We caught a 12½-footer and got it to the boat about 10 o’clock, but Scott said we could do better,” Montgomery said. “He just kept telling us to be patient, that there was a bigger one around.”
Around 11, they spotted a big gator back in the trees as they eased down the stream. Berry thought it might be a big one, so he told his partners that they’d give him time to settle.
“Scott was confident that if we let things settle down, the gator would come on out and give us a shot,” Montgomery said. “We went on down a way, then stopped and eased back up and waited. It took 30 minutes but the alligator popped back up about 20 yards from the boat. He had come out just like Scott thought he might.”
Berry realized that while it wasn’t the one “sure-enough” monster he was looking for, it was big enough to take.
“I hadn’t been sure he was big enough until he popped back up that close to us,” Berry said. “As soon as I saw him at 20 yards, I was sure.”
Before they could make a cast, the gator went down, but he resurfaced moments later about 25 yards away. Berry used his trolling motor to close the distance and in a matter of minutes both Berry and Montgomery were hooked to the alligator.
“It got kind of crazy there,” Montgomery said. “We went for a ride.”
Phillips put a third hook into the gator a few minutes later, and Montgomery said things even got crazier.
“With three hooks, we were about to get him to the boat,” Montgomery said, “but he didn’t like that much. He came up and started rolling, and that’s when he broke one of the rods. It was thrashing and biting at the boat and it was not over.”
Over the course of another hour or so, the gator did its best to escape, using every stump and snag it could find.
“We broke off a bunch of hooks and there were a couple of times when we were down to just one hook in the gator,” Berry said, “but we always were able to get hooked back up.”
Finally, the gator tired and was back beside the boat. Berry wasted little time getting a snag around one of the legs, while the beast tried to make the boat into its last meal.
“Bit clean through the front of my aluminum boat, just under the gunnel,” Berry said. A few seconds later, Montgomery was in position to put a lethal load of No. 8 shot from his 20-gauge into the small kill zone at the back of the gator’s massive head.”
It was done.
The hunters secured the alligator to the side of the boat and began the two-hour ride, basically at idle speed, back to the ramp.
“While we were going, that’s when I saw the water spewing through a couple of holes in my boat,” Berry said. “I said, ‘where’s that water coming from?’ We looked and saw the two holes where he had broken his teeth in the aluminum.”
How big were the holes?
“The size of the two biggest teeth in a gator’s mouth,” Berry said, laughing.
Biologist Ricky Flynt, who leads the alligator program for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, certified the record just before sunrise Tuesday at the Mahannah Wildlife Management Area north of Vicksburg.
Flynt’s official measurements show a weight of 792 pounds, a length of 13 feet, 5 inches, and girth measurements of 69¼ inches at the belly, 51 inches at the tail and 20 5/8 inches around the head.
A true beast, yet not the one Berry has been seeking.
“I’m still looking for one I’ve seen down there that will definitely beat this record,” he said. “I don’t know just how big it is, but I do know it’s a lot bigger than this one. I just haven’t seen him in the right situation.”
Berry said he is not targeting one particular stream, but more like one area of the Mississippi River.
“I am a big duck hunter and I hunt the river a lot,” he said. “I also do a lot of fishing on the river, so I know the area pretty good and there’s several little coves, streams and creeks around there. It’s loaded up with big gators. I didn’t have to scout the area, because I go there a lot. I know the big one’s still there.”
Maybe, Berry said, that record eventually could be his, if his luck changes.
“I’ve put in all 10 years they’ve had drawings for gator hunts, and I was drawn one time back when the only hunting was at Barnett Reservoir,” he said. “That was back when they only had that one night you could hunt and the night I was drawn, the weather and conditions were so bad they postponed it a week and I couldn’t even go. I’ve never been drawn again, but I’ve gone hunting about every year.
“My friends get drawn and other people call me about hunting. I’m just not very lucky when it comes to the drawing.”