Author’s note: Bill Epeards of Goshen, Ohio, has traveled the world and taken some legendary animals on some unbelievable hunts. A member of the PSE and Mossy Oak Pro Staffs, he works with Jimmy Houston Outdoors and is a member of a world-champion archery target team. “I shot competition archery for a lot of years, but I got away from it,” Epeards reports. “Then I got with some other older fellows, and today we shoot the senior class of the Bowhunter Division of the IBO. We won the national championship for two consecutive years – 2008 and 2009 – came in second in 2010 and won 2011 and 2012.” Epeards also guides and hunts in the United States. This week Epeards shares with us some of his most memorable bow hunts.
Question: Bill, how did you come to going on an alligator hunt?
Epeards: I have what I call my bucket list – the types of hunts I’ve always wanted to go on, so when I think of a hunt that I really want to do, I mentally put that hunt on what I call my bucket list. If I can find the right time and the right outfitter, I want to take one of these hunts out of the bucket and try to go on that hunt. A trophy alligator hunt has been on my list for a long time. I’ve been gator hunting two other times, but I’ve never found the size of gator I really want to take.
Then I heard about Matt Cates at M&M Outfitters in Melbourne, Florida, who specializes in hunting alligators and hogs. We hunted about 45 minutes from Melbourne on private land. I took two judges with me from Michigan. They’d planned to hunt hogs with Cates, but when I started talking about hunting alligators, they decided they wanted to shoot gators too. So, before my hunt, they went out and shot a gator apiece with rifles. Matt and I went out hunting, and we found an alligator that looked like a dinosaur – 12 feet, 4 inches long that weighed close to 600 pounds. Once we took the gator, we put it on a scale that weighed up to 500 pounds, and this gator bottomed out the scale.
Question: Tell us about the hunt.
Epeards: Most alligator hunts are at night out of a boat. However, the wind had been bad down there, and we’d had some storms, so we were hunting alligators in between the storms and the wind. We found this gator sunning itself on the bank at about 1:30 pm one day. We knew that this area where we were hunting was going to get severe storms that evening, so we decided to try to take that gator that afternoon. My guide said, “Bill, this alligator is at least 11 feet long. I need to look at its tail with my binoculars and make sure it hasn’t been bitten off by another alligator in a fight. But right now, it looks like a good alligator for you to take.” The alligator was 75-80 yards from us when Cates started shaking the cattails.
We had to crawl across a potato field to get to the edge of the canal. Then we were on one side of the canal, and this monster-sized alligator was on the other side of the canal. This region had a heavy wind that day. Apparently the alligator had come out of the reservoir, gone up this canal and was lying in the sun out of the wind. We crawled close to our side of the canal, and my guide shook the cattails again. When the alligator saw the cattails move, it came off its side of the canal like a rocket. It looked like a big submarine moving right toward us as it closed the distance from 75 yards away to come to us. My guide said, “Get ready. You’re probably going to have to take the shot quickly.” I was hunting with my PSE X-Force Axe 6. I had a Bohning fish arrow and a Ramcat broadhead I was planning to use. I also had a buoy tied on to the line of my fish arrow. The alligator came out of the water on my side of the canal and presented a shot at 10 yards. I shot the fish arrow right behind the alligator’s front leg. The big gator immediately wheeled and went back into the water. My guide told me the alligator would go down to the bottom and stay there for a while, before it would have to come up for air.
About 45 mintues later, we saw the buoy moving, and the line we’d attached to the buoy coming back to the bank. Once the buoy began moving, we started pulling on the line attached to the fish arrow that had gone inside the gator. We had an airboat available that we could have used to chase the alligator. But my guide said, “let’s try to get the gator to come out of the water again, so you can get another shot.” We pulled slightly on the line attached to the fish arrow and tried to lead the gator back to the bank. Finally, the gator started coming toward us again. When the gator came up again, it was less than 10 yards away, and I took the second shot with my bow. I was above the gator, and it was still in the water. When the arrow hit the gator, he took off again. Cates said, “the gator won’t stay down long this time, because he’s going to have to come up to get more air.” We got the gator up again. However, this time, instead of aiming behind the gator’s leg, I aimed for the neck area, hoping to get a shot in that would dispatch the gator quickly. I had a complete pass-through with that arrow. This time, the gator rolled, and when he finally quit rolling, we brought the gator out on the bank. The arrow had done its job.
We never had to use a bang stick or any type of firearm to complete the hunt. Five grown men were required to pull my gator out of the water. When we finally measured the gator, it taped out at 12 feet, 4 inches long. I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to take a trophy like this. The guides estimated the gator’s age at 60 years old. We took the gator to an alligator-processing business, which skinned and cut up the gator. I got the meat to eat, and I’m going to have the alligator mounted life-size.
Learn bowhunting strategies in the new Kindle eBooks, “Jim Crumley’s Secrets of Bowhunting Deer” and “Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros,” by John E. Phillips. Go to http://www.amazon.com/kindle-ebooks, type in the name of the books, and download it to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.
Click here to check out John Phillips’ article archives, including more stories from Bill Epeards coming later this week.