As expected, Mississippi alligator chasers did produce a new state record on opening weekend of the public lands season, and program director Ricky Flynt said Sunday the success is a testament to how good hunters have become.
“The weather was fine, but there is a lot of water, a lot of water left from recent rains and that is not necessarily a good thing for people, especially along the Mississippi River and the coastal area,” said Flynt, the alligator biologist for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “The water does give hunters access to more areas, but it also gives the big, old gators a lot more hiding places.”
That was not a problem for one hunting group, which spent Saturday night on Bayou Pierre just south of Port Gibson near its confluence with the Mississippi River.
That’s where permit holder Tiffany Wienke and friends hooked, captured, killed and then nearly lost the longest alligator ever taken on public lands — 13 feet, 7 7/8 inches.
It broke the existing record by 1/8 of an inch, and did so only on the final measurement conducted by Flynt. According to Wienke, the hunters and the alligator processor had measured the beast several times and knew it was close. The unofficial measurements ranged from 13 feet 7½ inches to 13 feet, 8 inches.
“Flynt arrived and said ‘I am going to measure him three times because that’s how I do it,’” Wienke said. “We sat there and held our breath.
“He said, ‘congratulations, you got it by ⅛ inch. You got the new record.’ I got chills. That's when I let everything sink in and I let myself get excited.”
It was not the first nervous moments for Wienke and her hunting party. They nearly let the monster get away ... after it was dead.
The night started on Bayou Pierre in typical fashion for the tributary of the Mississippi River that is well known for big gators. It has produced records and a lot of other big ones in the past.
It was crowded, so much so that Wienke’s group of six veteran hunters — it was her seventh year to hunt — sought solitude and that’s where they found the big gator.
“There were a lot of hunters on the bayou and we tried to get away from them and were just trolling through the water scanning bank to bank,” she said. “At about 9:30 p.m., we spotted him swimming across the water in front of us so we could see his profile and could see he had a big head. We knew it was a big gator.”
She said her husband, William Wienke, got the first hook in him and another hunter soon added a second. They knew it was big but were soon in for a big surprise.
“After about half an hour, he came up about 5 or 10 feet from the front of the boat,” she said. “We were stunned.”
Soon, they would be extremely nervous.
After popping up and giving the hunters a brief glimpse at his bulk, the big gator went deep and apparently under and around a log. The group knew it would eventually have to come up for air and it did.
In the brush.
“We were able to get a noose around it but we also got some of the brush in the noose and he was able to slip out,” Wienke said. “Then he started running and broke both lines.”
The gator was free, but was also tired. It had to get air and after 20 minutes it did so, in a bad place. It popped up within sight and casting distance of the Wienkes.
William Wienke was ready and cast the heavy treble hook across the gator and hooked up again — this time in the mouth, which is not a good thing.
“We basically hooked up like a fish,” Tiffany Wienke said.
It became a problem, when soon after a second hook was added to the beast, they finally fought it to the boat.
“When he came up, with that hook in its mouth, we knew we’d never get a noose around its head,” she said. “My husband then got a third hook in it and handed me that pole. Then he cut the line that was attached to the hook in its mouth.”
That quick thinking would have allowed the noose to go over the head to the neck of the gator, but the beast wasn’t ready for that. He took off on a 30 to 45 minute run that would only delay the inevitable.
Two hours after first hooking up, the group killed the gator.
It was one of many good gators that were reported during the first weekend. Mississippi allows alligators to be sold, the only game animal that can be bought and sold in the state.
One of the processors located in Vicksburg was so busy that by early Sunday had no more room for gators and stopped taking them.
“That didn’t last long,” Flynt said. “They were able to find another processor in Louisiana where they could take some and were quickly back in business.”
One group, led by permit holder Magen Sojourner, also had and nearly lost a giant on Bayou Permit. This story happened Friday.
“We had two boats and nine people,” Sojourner said, “so we split up into two groups to scout more areas. Our boat was heading up the bayou and we saw a bunch of gators going in but nothing we wanted. Then at about 8, we saw this one and knew it was what we were looking for.”
The group hooked up at 20 yards and in 45 minutes had the 12-foot, 11½-inch brute beside the boat. A killing shot was applied to its head.
“After he was shot, he began to body roll under the water going straight to the bottom, breaking two of the three hooks we had in him,” Sojourner said. “We were then down to only one hook and the reel was broken on that rod, so we were getting worried since we weren’t sure if he was still alive or not. Finally after an hour of waiting and the gator still on bottom, we got in touch with the rest of our group in the other boat to come help.
“We were then able to get several more hooks in him and figured out that the shot made did in fact kill him. Then came the hard part! Getting the heavy giant reeled up off the bottom. Finally after a little while of pulling on him we were able to get him surfaced and pulled him alongside the boat to the bank where we tagged him and secured his legs and taped his mouth closed.”
One group in north Mississippi reported — they posted on Facebook but did not respond to messages — they had a scary moment shortly after hooking into a big one.
“I think I will have the best alligator story to tell and not a soul will believe it,” posted Shane Williams. “Cast on a good one, think I have missed it then realize that it is not a tree it is the gator. He pulls us into a tree. I’m fighting the gator then the guy working the light yells ‘Hornets!’ then you start feeling your face, neck, and chest turn fire hot. Throw down the rod dive for the motor. (Yes no one has jumped in the water). Get 30 yards out and yes the rod is still in the boat. We are killing hornets and still have a gator hooked. Pick up the rod, work the gator for another 20 minute and trying to get a throw hook on it, the line breaks.”