Who would have ever thought that the new World Record alligator would come from the state of Alabama? Most people would have guessed Louisiana or Florida, but those states had been harvesting alligators for many years before Alabama opened their season and most of the larger gators there have been taken.
The American Alligator was threatened with extinction due to unregulated harvest in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Then, there were no regulations to limit the number of alligators harvested. Alabama was one of the first states to outlaw unregulated harvests. In 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the reptile on the Endangered Species list. By 1987, it was removed from the Endangered Species list and population numbers have continued to grow.
“It has continued to grow for two reasons: because of the hunter and those that support conservation, as well as the Conservation Department, who make sure it is regulated and protected,” said Alabama Conservation Commissioner Gunter Guy.
On the night of Aug. 16, 2014, SCI Alabama Chapter member Mandy Stokes and her family went out for their first alligator hunt. Little did they know what was in store for them. They were hunting (fishing) in Mills Creek in Millers Ferry, located just outside Camden.
In the 17-foot aluminum boat were Mandy, her husband John Stokes, brother-in-law Kevin Jenkins and his kids Savannah and Parker. Around 10:45 Kevin hooked-up with the gator with light tackle. He passed the rod to Mandy who was the tag holder. More lines with heavier tackle were hooked up to the gator. It was total teamwork throughout the night as they worked to get the gator into position for a shot. It was 4:45 when the gator was finally dispatched.
They got to watch the sun come up while finishing the job. Mandy said that if they had been one man short, the task might not have been completed. Throughout the six-hour ordeal of fighting the gator, they had no idea of how big it was.
“A lot of people have asked me directly if I was afraid, and I said we were too ignorant to be afraid because we didn’t know,” Stokes said.
Once the alligator was dispatched and landed, it was taken to the Roland Cooper State Park check station for weighing. The first attempt actually broke part of the scales. Later it tipped the scales at 1,011 ½ pounds. It was taken to Autaugaville, Alabama to taxidermist Ken Owens.
Upon opening the alligator, it was found to contain the remains of a 3-year-old doe deer, swallowed whole and weighing around 100 pounds, two squirrels, a duck, and remains of a cow or calf. He was definitely eating well.
Realizing that this alligator was extra special as far as its size, SCI Master Measurers John Chitwood and Randall Bush were contacted to officially measure the reptile. There had been several measurements taken, each giving a different measurement. Some were taken along the belly and some were taken from snout to tail on a flat surface. SCI measures alligators and crocodiles from tip of snout to tip of tail with the measurement taken across the back of the alligator.
Bush and Chitwood have measured record-setting animals in all parts of the world, but neither had seen anything like this. Its head alone was almost three feet long.
“It was a lot bigger than I had expected,” said Randall Bush, SCI Regional Representative. “Usually, if someone says they’ve got an exceptionally large animal, it usually ends up being a little bit less. This far exceeded my wildest expectations.”
On Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, Bush and Chitwood met with Keith Gauldin, Assistant Wildlife Chief for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, reporters from the Alabama Outdoors Magazine and other news reporters to officially measure the alligator according to SCI methods.
Upon pulling the tape on this monster reptile it was determined to measure 189 1/8 inches (15 feet, 9 inches). This exceeded the current Number 1 alligator in the SCI Record Book by 13 inches. The previous record was set by Thomas Bass of Trinity, Texas in 2007 for his 14-foot, 8-inch alligator. The Alabama State record alligator was taken by Keith Fancher of Sterrett, Alabama measuring 14-feet, 2 inches and weighing in at 838 pounds.
The reptile’s age was speculated to be very old, probably in the 50s. Upon analysis of the alligator’s leg bone, the age was determined to be between 24 and 28 years.
The alligator was mounted by Ken Owens, also an SCI member. He did a magnificent job of bringing the reptile back to a life-like creature.
On Friday, May 22, at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum at the Montgomery Zoo the alligator was unveiled. Among those in attendance were Randall Bush representing SCI, Gunter Guy (Alabama Conservation Commissioner), Curtis Jones (Deputy Commissioner of Conservation), Chuck Sykes (Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries), Todd Strange (Montgomery Mayor), and Clyde Chambliss (State Senator). Of course, there was Mandy Stokes and the entire crew that helped to land the alligator.
Mandy was wearing a string of pearls that she had worn on that eventful night. Stokes had informed her family that if she was ever lucky enough to draw an alligator tag she was going to wear the necklace so she’d look good for the interview after catching an alligator bigger than Keith Fancher’s 14-foot, 2-inch, 838-pound state record.