What do you think of when you think of dragons? Fire breathing, flying beast with huge claws and teeth that reek havoc on everything and everybody they see? Or do you think of the dragon slayers that went out and killed the beast to keep the villages safe? A story steeped in mystery for generations. What if I told you that dragons still exist? They may not breathe fire or fly but they are still alive and well in Florida. This is where my adventure begins.
Robert Hoague and Rich Walton of Bowhunting.net put me in touch with David Mills, owner of Team Struttin Ruttin and Reelin in Arcadia Florida. Jim and I have both wanted to do an alligator hunt for several years. We knew Robert had hunted with David on numerous occasions for several different species of animals. David guides for Osceola Turkey, whitetail deer, alligator and bow fishing trips. So we felt with Robert’s recommendation that David was the man we wanted to hunt with.
We arrived in Daytona Beach on the 20th of April for a few days in the sun and surf which turned out to be a few days in the clouds with temps in the 60 and a rain. We did however find a great seafood restaurant in Holly Hill not far from Daytona. Park’s Seafood Riverside . Our waitress Shannon was a real pleasure. Shannon and her Mom both are hunters so our conversation was not lacking. The food was amazing which made up for the gloomy weather and they had gator tail on the menu along with their delicious seafood.
We arrived at Camp Turnerloose on Sunday afternoon about 4pm. This is one of the camps that David guides from. The camp is owned by Gene “Brother” Turner who met us there and took us on a little tour of his place with some of his friends.
This sprawling 1500 acre camp has over 400 acres of swamp alone. It also boasts miles of canals and irrigation ditches. The lodge is built out of reclaimed Cyprus wood that was once an old school house. Camp Turnerloose will sleep 8 and since they know how picky hunters are about odors so he built the kitchen separate from the bunk and media room Of course the main house has a sink, refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot and all the amenities of home. But the main cooking is done in the kitchen and on the enormous grill he had hand built.
After showing us around Brother took us to the massive lake on the property in hopes of spotting some gators. As we drove slowly to the lake he told us to keep an eye on the canals and irrigation ditches. We spotted a huge 10 or 12 foot gator lying on the bank catching the last few rays of sun. It was massive and gave us the opportunity to take a few pictures.
On our first evening we were privileged to see plenty of gators, whitetail deer and other wildlife. We also got a little mud on the tires, right up to the rear axle. But hey, you have to start your adventure in a big way. We were glad that Brother had his friends along; apparently it takes three big strong men to push a Ford truck out of the muck. As the sun set and we headed back to camp Jim and I couldn’t wait to start the fire in the pit and dream about what the next several days would hold for us.
David met us Monday morning and got our license in order and we were ready to go hunting. One reason we really wanted to hunt with David is that you can hunt with any weapon, bow, pistol, rifle, crossbow, etc. I wanted to hunt a gator with my bow as I love a good challenge and this was no exception. David had told us to really study the alligator’s anatomy that a brain shot was what would be required to harvest the beast. They have a very small area where the brain lies and you have to make a perfect shot.
For my archery adventure we headed to an orange grove that Brother also owns. He owns over 18,000 acres of property. The grove was circled by canals which were loaded with alligators. I was looking for one between 6-8 feet in length. Due to the fact that the weather was unseasonably cool with the lows in the 40 and the highs only in the high 60 and low 70’s we were not going out until the weather warmed up. The gators were not coming out early; they were waiting till mid morning to come out to sun themselves.
We stalked by the edge of the canals very slowly; I did not realize what keen eyesight and sense of smell that alligators had. I was fully concealed in my Real Tree HD AP camo and had used my usual regimen of Wildlife Research Center Scent killer products.
Stalking is my favorite form of hunting so this was right up my alley. I had my Mathews Z-7 Magnum (named Magnus) in my hand and was ready to try my hand at slaying the mighty dragon. As David would ease up to the edge of the canal I would stay back and low until he motioned for me to continue to move. We had played our game of cat and mouse for sometime when David eased up to the edge of the canal and pulled his binos up. He was bent low and just turned to me and smiled and motioned for me to slowly ease up; the dragon was out of his lair.
Usually I am a very calm hunter and can keep it all together until after I make the shot so I was not worried – until I slipped up to the edge of the canal and saw the beast laying there next to the steep bank. The beast was turned with its back to me and his head was up out of the water. I could see where to aim and studied it for several seconds and then slowly drew my bow. It was straight down the bank of the canal so I bent at the waist, and practiced form. My Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrow and 100 grain Muzzy M-X 3 broad head were ready. I gently squeezed my release. Missed! I shot right beside his head to the left, kasploosh! I knew it was game over but the gator never moved.
I stepped back from the edge of the canal to regroup; I was shaking like a leaf in a hail storm. I looked at David and he just smiled “You have a case of gator fever” he said and was he ever right. This new adventure had me in a quiver, what a rush.
I ask David why the gator did not disappear, he said that they were use to fish and gators splashing around and that sometimes you would get lucky and they wouldn’t pay it much attention. He told me to take a few deep breathes and try again. I quickly reloaded and slowly made my way back to the edge of the canal; he was still in the same place. I once again drew my bow put the red dot of my Sure-Loc Sportsman Special on the back of his head and squeezed the release. When the arrow hit the gator the water exploded and the gator disappeared. The arrow did not pass through but the Carbon Express Lazer-Eye nock was glowing red as the gator went under water.
David had been standing right behind me and said it looked like a good shot. Unlike on other species that are on land, alligators don’t give you time to see the shot placement. Now we had to wait.
Jim and David’s son Colton was along on the adventures. Colton is seventeen years old and has been guiding since he was 14. He is an avid hunter like his Father and is an excellent guide as well.
David said that the gator would have to come up for air between 30 minutes and an hour depending on how wounded the gator was. If you make a perfect shot they don’t move but if you’re a little off with your shot they can just swim off and live for another million years.
Colton retrieved the rod and hook from the truck they tried to hook him in the last place that we saw him, but the grass was so thick that is was impossible. We all took positions down the edge of the canal being very still and quiet to see if and when he would come up for air.
After about 30 minutes we saw the red glow of the Lazer-Eye nock surface, I got into position to get another shot. He was almost broadside and David told me to shoot him in the eye. I took careful aim at the extreme downward angle and let the arrow fly. Again the water exploded and we waited. After a tense thirty minute David decided there was only one thing to do, go in after it.
One thing that I learned about David and Colton Mills is that neither of them is afraid to go in after a gator. David emptied his pockets, took off his shoes and in he went.
He felt with his feet along the bottom of the canal where we last saw him and there was a culvert that drained from one canal to another under the road. David swam closer to the culvert when he could no longer walk the bottom and sure enough, ole Mr. toothy was in the culvert with the Lazer Eye nock glowing just below the surface.
David’s hope was that he could catch the gator, which is something he has done his entire life. Jim was positioned on one end of the culvert where David went in and Colton was on the other end with the catch hook with was attached to a fishing rod, I was at the top of the bank with the rod firmly in my grasp ready to hook the gator if it swam out of the culvert.
David slowly swam in the culvert and the gator began to ease his way toward Colton’s end of the culvert. David was talking in a low steady voice so we were aware of what was going one. After several tense moments, David squalled! On no! Had the gator got David?! My heart was beating so hard I thought I was going to pass out. Colton never budged. Then I heard David start laughing, a gar had brushed up against him in the murky water and had startled him. He of course thought it was funny, me, I didn’t see the humor. We all know that gar have teeth too.
David continued toward the gator and then the Lazer Eye nock disappeared. Colton was in position but never saw the gator swim out the end of the culvert. The reason was it was very deep on that end of the canal.
After David was safely on the bank he decided we would go eat lunch and come back. He felt that the gator would not leave the area and again would have to come back up for air. David’s wife Amy had a delicious lunch ready for us when we arrived back at camp.
We were almost done with lunch when “Brother” called and said he had spotted the gator, so we headed back to the canal.
David and I again approached slowly trying not to spook the gator. David crept up to the edge of the canal where “Brother” had last seen him. He had moved on up the canal about 50 yards and was holding tight to the bottom of the bank. The grass was high along the edge of the bank which gave us great cover but it also gave me no shot for my bow. David pointed the gator out to me and I used my Leupold binos to locate him. It is amazing how well concealed they are in the grass. I had a choice to make, try with my bow and make a risky shot and have this adventure continue with the possibility of someone getting hurt or finish it safely with my rifle. David told me the choice was mine and that he was okay with either decision.
David had already put himself in danger once but I could not see taking a chance again. So the sword was wielded (in the form “the precious” my T/C 25-06) and the beast was dead. High fives and hugs were abundant and we all thanked the Big Guy upstairs for a safe and successful hunt that I will never forget. It added to the moment that Jim and Colton were there as well to add to this fantastic hunt. Hunting is not only about the harvest but sharing it with your hunting buddy and new friends.
I can not thank David Mills enough for the effort that he puts into each hunt. This has to be the most heart pounding, exciting, fun adventure I have ever been on.
If you have a gator hunt on your bucket list you have to hunt with David Mills. If you don’t have a gator hunt on your list, add it and go Slay a DRAGON! We are headed back to Team Struttin Ruttin and Reelin at Christmas to do some bowfishing and that will be another adventure.
Team Struttin Ruttin and Reelin