River Valley men get their gators

By Tammy Keith Originally Published October 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 2, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.
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Brandon Scallion of Conway and Todd Malabanan of Choctaw were hunting in separate counties in the wee hours of Sept. 22, but both got what they were looking for — their first alligator.

The experience didn’t disappoint either of them.

“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” Malabanan said.

“I figured it’d be exciting, and it was,” Scallion said.

Malabanan, 37, got a 12-foot-6-inch male gator killed on the lower end of the Arkansas River near Dumas.

Scallion, 31, landed a 7-foot-5 3/4-inch female in Old Lake Merrisach near Tichnor.

“If it’s a got a season, I hunt it,” Scallion said. This was the first time he’d applied for an alligator tag.

Malabanan said he was looking for a challenge.

“I hunt deer and turkey and bear and fish. I duck hunt a lot,” Malabanan said.

“As far as everything in Arkansas, the only two things left to kill are elk and an alligator.”

He and his friends apply for an alligator tag each year, and he finally got one.

Malabanan and three buddies started hunting Sept. 20 on the Arkansas River in Dumas, a familiar fishing hole for him. Spotlighting, normally illegal, is part of the hunt, he said.

Malabanan said he harpooned the big gator at 4:10 a.m., and it was 5:38 a.m. when he killed it. The person with the hunting tag has to harpoon and shoot the gator.

With him were Jeremy Hillenburg of Clinton, Steven Isom of Wooster and Chris Youngblood of White Hall.

“Everybody had a job. One of them held the spotlight; another one actually was standing next to me helping with the trolling motor; the other one had hold of the rope,” he said.

“You see a lot of small ones before you run into a big one. We’d been hunting all night and turned out of the bayou, and he was just in the water, facing the bank, on the edge of the bank,” Malabanan said.

They used the boat’s trolling motor to get behind the bull gator.

“You’re within 3 or 4 feet over the top of him before you spear him, and you have no idea what’s going to happen next,” he said.

Success wasn’t immediate, though.

“[The alligator] stayed under the water an hour and held his breath,” Malabanan said.

“We started easing him to the top; I’ve got the shotgun in my hand,” he said.

Malabanan hit the sweet spot.

“It took all four of us to get his head and feet over in the boat. We had his mouth taped. Once we had him halfway over in the boat, he decided he’d walk the rest of the way on his own,” Malabanan said. “We just kind of wondered what we were going to do — we didn’t want to shoot him in the boat.”

He said that after about 15 minutes, the monster gave out.

Malabanan said the game warden estimated the gator weighed 700-800 pounds. It was the largest in Zone 3, the management area in which he was hunting.

To get it home, Malabanan put the gator in the boat, bought about $50 of ice to pack around it, covered the beast with a blanket and headed back to Choctaw.

“It’s the most exciting thing I think I’ve ever done; I never thought it would be like that, but it was crazy,” Malabanan said.

Scallion’s gator didn’t give up easily.

“I started hunting in the pouring down rain Friday, and nobody else wanted to go,” he said.

Scallion, a trout-fishing guide, said rain doesn’t bother him.

It did cause his truck to get stuck as he tried to launch on the muddy boat ramp.

“I got stuck and had to winch out, and as soon as we started hunting in the trout boat, we saw a 9-footer 30 minutes in,” he said. Scallion decided it was too early in the hunt, so he waited.

When the rain stopped, the water got crowded.

About 4:30 a.m. Sunday, he and his friends spotlighted the female gator, he said.

“I actually missed it the first time. It swam off about 10 yards,” he said, and they followed. “I didn’t miss then.”

“Most of the time when you harpoon them, you have these little Styrofoam balls, and it takes off and you follow them,” he said.

Instead, the gator was caught. The area was shallow and had lots of stumps, Scallion said, and the harpoon rope was tangled.

“This thing was going absolutely crazy in the water beside us,” he said. “It came out of

the water once; it was very intense. It can come at you; it did come at us once. It was an eye-opening experience.”

The gator went to the bottom and stayed.

“We wondered if she got off, because she was thrashing and rolling,” and then she was still.

One of his friends grabbed the rope, “and he pulled it, and pulled it and pulled it,” Scallion said.

The gator came up, and Scallion shot it.

“If you miss that spot, it can be ugly,” he said.

After taking photos with the prize, he took it to a processor.

“I’ll probably mount it,” he said. His wife, Christin, likely will stipulate that he has to hang it at his deer camp, he said.

Malabanan said Charlie Angelle of Clinton, a Louisiana native, cleaned the gator for him.

“We got him spread out in about three freezers,” Malabanan said. He hasn’t eaten any of the meat, yet, but a friend who did said it was mighty tasty.

He said his wife, Bethany, “couldn’t believe it” when he brought home the giant gator.

“She was pretty concerned about me going gator hunting, but she never imagined I’d get a big one. Just lucky, I guess,” Malabanan said.

Now all he has left to hunt is elk.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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