A giant, stinky beast

Man kills 13-foot, 9-inch, 1,135-pound gator

Photo submitted by Drew Baker
Drew Baker, left, killed this 13-foot, 9-inch alligator last Saturday in Hempstead County with help from Clay Berry, right. The gator is tentatively the new state record.
Photo submitted by Drew Baker Drew Baker, left, killed this 13-foot, 9-inch alligator last Saturday in Hempstead County with help from Clay Berry, right. The gator is tentatively the new state record.

Arkansas appears to have a new state-record alligator, a 13-foot, 9-inch male killed Sept. 21 in Hempstead County by Drew Baker of Little Rock.

The gator bested the record of 13-3, which Mike Cottingham of Prescott killed Sept. 14, 2012. It weighed 1,135 pounds field dressed. Baker and Cottingham took their gators from the same lake.

“I’m a member of the Lost Lake Club below Lake Millwood,” Baker said.

“We’ve got three lakes on our property. It’s adjacent to Cypress Bayou, which is adjacent to Grassy Lake.

We’re slam full of alligators.”

Because the property has so many alligators, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has assigned the club a designated alligator hunting permit annually for the past several years, Baker said. Club members have a drawing for the permit. Winners can’t enter the drawing again until everyone in the club who wants to hunt has hunted.

Baker drew a permit the second year of the drawing, but he was unsuccessful.

“I couldn’t get close enough to one,” Baker said.

“I felt extremely dejected.

There hadn’t been any pressure on these alligators up to that point, but I didn’t get it done.”

This year, the AGFC awarded the Lost Lake Club two permits, but one of the winners couldn’t go. Baker volunteered to replace him.

Baker said he and the other winner flipped a coin to determine who hunted first.

The other guy won the right to hunt the first night, Sept.

20, on Red Lake.

“There’s big gators in all those lakes, but we knew for sure there was a big one in that lake,” Baker said. “He went the first night, and I went the second night.”

Baker got on the water just before sundown Sept. 21 with his helpers, Clay Berry of Arkadelphia and Terry Jerry of Cabot. Berry killed a gator the first year of the club’s drawing. Baker was his helper. They waited in the middle of the lake and kept quiet.

At about 8:30 p.m., Cottingham called Baker on his cellphone. That’s about the time Baker’s spotlight caught the red reflection from alligator eyes.

“I said, ‘Mike, I got to go.

I’ve got one in sight,’ ” Baker said.

They took about 10 minutes to overtake the gator with the trolling motor on high. This is where it gets dicey because a spooked gator will simply submerge and you probably won’t see it again. The gator kept swimming, a good sign.

“The most valuable thing I learned from this hunt is that if he’s moving, he’s just going to try to swim away,” Baker said. “When they sink, they sink backwards. If you can come in on him at 6 o’clock, you’ve pretty much got him. When we got to within 10 feet, I realized I could get a shot.”

Some gator hunters use a snare to get a gator in position to shoot it, but Baker used a harpoon. He said this gator’s head was too big for a snare.

“I started shaking so bad,” Baker said. “You have to hit them in the side. I waited as long as I could and got him just in front of the rear leg.”

That wasn’t so great because a harpoon in the lower part of the body gives the hunter very little leverage.

“I fought him for about 40 minutes,” Baker said.

“His head and upper body were out of control. He kept his head down. We just had to wear him down and wait for him to come up for air.”

The gator almost got revenge.

“My buddy Clay almost fell out of the boat on top of the gator,” Baker said. “The gator’s head came up and rocked the boat real hard, and Clay almost went out.

I grabbed his sleeve and yanked down on him real hard. We all just kind of froze. He said, ‘Dude, you just saved my life!’ ”

The gator came up for air one last time, and Baker shot it twice. That’s when the real work began.

They towed the gator to shore, then used a truck to drag it ashore. A fourth friend arrived to help tug and roll the animal into the boat, and then they took it to an AGFC facility to check it and ice it down.

Eley Talley, the AGFC’s assistant supervisor for Region 5, checked the gator.

“I didn’t realize when I got the call to go down there what they had,” Talley said. “It was just a massive alligator. The largest I ever dealt with was a 12-foot, 6-inch nuisance alligator that we moved, but that one didn’t. … I mean, this one was just amazing, how big the head and the body and the feet on the thing, they were just huge.”

The group started field dressing the gator at midnight. Its stomach contained the remains of a hog.

“We pulled out a hog quarter, a skull and a mishmash of parts,” Baker said, adding that the stench was atrocious.

“He stank,” Baker said of the alligator. “He was a foul, foul smelling animal.

I can’t hardly describe it.

It’s like the water down in his throat and mouth was completely rancid. It was terrible.”

The next morning, Baker weighed the gator at the Love’s Truck Stop in Prescott, and again at a truck stop in Galloway.

Dave Corley, owner of Fin, Feather and Fur Taxidermy in Jacksonville, used his tractor to move the carcass from the boat to Baker’s truck. Corley helped him cape the hide Monday, and Baker took the meat to Hogg’s Meat Market.

Corley said you had to see the gator to get a true sense of its majesty.

“There’s not a picture that will do it justice,” Corley said. “You’ve got to be right there beside it and put your hands on it to get the effect of how big a 14-foot gator is.

“When you’re standing beside it, you can’t believe we have animals this size in Arkansas. I can’t fathom what must have been going through his [Baker’s] mind fighting this thing in a 15-foot boat. You’ve got something on a string that’s capable of eating you, and all it wants to do is kill whatever is bothering him.

“I’m outdoors all the time, and I wouldn’t have an inkling of what to do with something like that.”

Sports, Pages 37 on 09/29/2013

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