With the onset of a low-grade migraine, I sprawled out helpless in bed Sunday afternoon watching what football I could capture through the one eye that didn’t burn from ambient lighting. Assessing a new NFL season, I couldn’t believe how poorly the replacement officials performed. During the 49’er – Packer tilt, I felt confident a special-teams player or assistant coach would take one for the team and kill a ref. Both of these squads were juggernauts last year and hope to recapture that glory in 2012. So much has to go right in today’s football to maintain success that any interference of unseen forces is detrimental to clubs. In addition to all the preparation, practice and acquisition of talent, praying for a lack of injuries and a weak strength of schedule - and playing outside of Cleveland or Detroit - is about all a team can do within their capability to challenge the Universe and punch a ticket to the playoffs.
Hunting is much the same way. A lot of things have to go right year in and year out to consistently tag whatever critter you’re chasing. Take deer. There was a four-year stretch where I could do no wrong. I could have constructed a small gazebo from the whitetail antler I killed during that time. I sensed I had it all figured out. Since then, I’m entering my fourth straight season without having had a reasonable whisper of connecting on even a spike.
Not to dole out too many frowny faces, but weather, work, time, Mother Nature's fickle personality, family and friends selfishly marrying during the fall, and changes in hunting locales have all conspired against me. I’m not complaining, but it's the truth. Though I've spent a reckless amount of time in the woods, it hasn't been enough to overcome the time I've not been there in order to succeed. And in all honesty, I compromised myself by half-abandoning the Antler Chase to free up time and resources forother ventures, namely ducks and gators. After three straight seasons of relative easy gator grabbing, I wasn’t prepared for them to Shanghai me this summer, but Shanghai me they have.
Gators deserve a lot more credit than they receive. The reality shows have served as a catalyst to get people interested in the sport. And – in contradiction to most ads – it’s not what’s seen on TV. Alligators are difficult quarry to describe. I wouldn’t exactly call them intelligent, but they are very wary, especially on hard-hunted lakes. They display a reaction to hunting pressure just the same as any other pursued beast. You can spot one across a lake, motor to him as he submerges and thenwait him out. Sometimes it works; sometimes he…well, we call it, “Transports to Dimension X.”
My first two mornings out on Harris’ 1st phase permits taught the ying and yang of their personalities. The opening morning you couldn’t shine or glass 50 yards in any direction without spotting eyes. Not all of them were behemoths, but seeing game is seeing game. Harris hooked into a large gator that was creeping along the bottom surfacing a trail of bubbles, a common tactic for snatching a gator. I put another treble hook into him and the fight was on. He breached the water once. From the brief showing, we could tell he was easily in the 10-11 foot range.
Somehow, though, he managed to pitch both lines. We reeled in the hooks and quickly fired them back out at his new trail of bubbles streaming from the bottom as if a regulator had popped out of the mouth of a Scuba diver. I felt the line go taunt and heaved into the creature, hoping to set the barbs deeper this time. We maneuvered over top of him as I could feel my line shaking, knowing I had hooked into something living and not a log or submerged car.
Slowly but surely, I hoisted up a trot line placed by one of the many commercial fisherman on the lake, hooks complete with catfish. The gator got away due to the interference. The following morning was a gator ghost town. Where we’d seen dozens the day before, now they’d vanished. The majority of gator hunting is done during the evening hours and two nights of boats had properly alarmed them.
After that showing it’s been a comedy of errors. A couple breezy days that caused the lake to chop. A failing spotlight. A sick child. Tropical Storm Issac. Prior weekend obligations. Work. I thought we’d had a monster pegged on Lake Buffum for a Saturday hunt on my tags – after weeks of keeping watch, he was nowhere to be found when the time came to collect. These are the elements of most failed seasons.
|Harris, Belle, and Krunk with a 10-footer|
The real kicker, though, is the crew I hunt with has persevered through these obstacles and landed fine gators. Harris and Krunk tagged two 10-footers in consecutive trips after I had been unavailable for the hunt. That’ll drive anyone nuts.
The nice thing is there’s still plenty of time in the season. Between us we have six permits and a month-and-a-half left to use them. After the 4th phase ends Wednesday morning, at on the 12th, anyone with leftover CITES permits may return to their respective lakes and double their efforts. This 2012 general season will conclude at on November 1st.
As with hunting and football, you have to keep trotting out there, make the most of your chances, and believe things will break your way over the course of a long season – even if the year was not the one you were expecting.