Dead tired, Joe Houston and his nephew Scott looked out from a boat last week using a spotlight in a night so dark it was black.
Both saw a head. A long ways away they saw a tail. And in between, “a body bigger around than a big tree,” Scott Houston said.
Buoys, just like in the movie “Jaws,” had been drawn out from the boat after a crossbow hit its target and disappeared under the water. Whatever was under that water had the strength of a locomotive. The boat was being pulled.
Then the men saw two yellow-green eyes that glowed like beacons. The eyes belonged to something that Scott Houston said, “would eat you and then go out looking for dessert.”
But these two guys – uncle Joe and nephew Scott who have bagged deer, mule deer, elk and just about everything else that runs, walks, crawls or swims – had been on the Waccamaw River near Georgetown for almost 24 hours straight. They could not quit now.
“I told the guide I wanted a big gator,” Joe Houston said. “Years ago, I got one eight feet and then I got one that was six foot. So I said I wanted a bigger gator. I sure found one.”
The American alligator that Joe Houston had drawn a state permit to hunt – that they finally found just before dawn – was plenty big. Huge. And angry.
Yet the Houstons fought on. Joe was the hunter. Scott was the help.
Three shots from a cross bow had bounced off the armor-like plates of the alligator’s head and body. Only a fourth shot had hit the gator and stuck.
“All that did was make that gator go deep down on the bottom of the water and wait,” Joe Houston said.
Asked if he was scared, Joe Houston said: “No time to be scared while we were fighting that gator. That was one big gator, though.”
Joe Houston, 73, hardened from farm and textile mill work, chuckled. He hasn’t been scared since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.
Still, the gator at the river bottom held the boat with the two men and two guides. They were in the dark, tied to a monster. The theme from “Jaws” went through their minds. And the famous line: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“Thing was humongous, and we had all we could do to try and land him,” Scott Houston said.
It took four harpoon thrusts – three bounced off like gnats – before a harpoon attached to a rope stuck the gator.
“Then he really started fightin’ and thrashin’” Scott Houston said.
Joe Houston was told to grab his revolver, a .45-caliber nicknamed “The Judge” because that gun ends all disputes. Joe Houston fired three times – “click, click click” – before he fired one shot at the gator’s head.
Except it wasn’t. Joe Houston had forgotten the bullets. All that came out was wadding.
So he had to load The Judge with bullets and try again. Click. Click. Click. Finally, one shot to the gator’s head ended it.
“Hour and 45 minutes it took” Joe Houston said. “Then the work started.”
Because the two hunters and the two guides had to get the gator into the boat.
“It took teamwork, and I sure wouldn’t recommend anybody ever try this alone or even with just two people,” Joe Houston said.
They pulled into the weigh station as the sun rose. The gator was so big it had to be lifted out of the boat with a backhoe. Joe and Scott Houston sat on top of the gator for pictures.
The gator weighed in at 620 pounds and measured 12 feet 5 inches snout to tail.
“Not a record – but there aren’t many bigger,” Joe Houston said.
The head, feet and skin will be mounted, the meat processed for eating by the Houstons.
“Christmas gifts,” winked Joe Houston. “Tastes like chicken.”
Yet Joe and Scott Houston admit – they never had to hunt a chicken that would have eaten them first if given the chance.