COLUMBIA, S.C.—Experienced hunter Maryellen Mara-Christian of Massachusetts says she was excited to get her first alligator on a hunt this week in South Carolina.
Hooking and killing the 1,025 pound, 13 1/2-foot gator has made her something of a celebrity.
"He was just a big old gator," she said Friday by phone from a hotel in Washington, D.C., where she will be interviewed on a morning news show Saturday. "The hunt of a lifetime, I'd say."
The 48-year-old laid-off bank marketing officer from Fitchburg, Mass., was hunting Wednesday with her husband, Mark, who is a firefighter in Massachusetts and a part-time hunting guide in Maine, and Lake Moultrie guide Kevin Davis.
"I came down to South Carolina hoping for a 10-footer and I just lucked out to may have gotten one of the biggest ones people have ever seen," Mara-Christian said.
Alligator hunting is part hunting, part fishing. Hunters use a regular fishing pole with a heavy line and a large snatch hook. They try to get several hooks in the alligator to get him close to the boat so they can shoot or harpoon them. It is illegal in South Carolina for a hunter to shoot a free swimming alligator.
It took about two hours for Mara-Christian's party to secure the gator before they could shoot it. But the .22-caliber gun they had wasn't powerful enough to put the animal down so Mara-Christian used a knife to sever the animal's spinal cord at the base of its head.
"It was just shake, shake, shake," she said. "I was shaking for a long time after, but that happens when you hunt."
Meat processor Steve Drummond, owner of 301 Processing and Taxidermy, initially estimated that the gator weighed 900 pounds, but he and a friend were curious and procured a certified scale. Drummond, who has killed more than a dozen gators over the years, and processed the meat of many more, said it was the biggest one he had ever seen.
He said he has weighed gators that were just three feet shorter, but weighed less than 400 pounds.
"That is a very, very, very heavy alligator," Drummond said. "That one there had gobs and gobs of fat on it."
In fact, there was so much fat that only about 40 pounds of the meat is usable, he said. Drummond also will do the taxidermy on the gator so Mara-Christian can display it.
Only 1,000 licenses were given out for the monthlong alligator hunting season, according to the South Carolina Natural Resources Department website. Each hunter can get one alligator a year. The state is divided into four regions with no gator hunting allowed in the northwest area known as the Upstate. Licenses are awarded by lottery and hunters must stay in the zone where they were selected.
Mara-Christian was hunting on the lower of the Santee Cooper lakes, which are about halfway between Columbia and Charleston.
Drummond and Mara-Christian had gone hunting the day before, stalking the gators while standing in about a foot of water on the edge of the lake.
"I was never afraid, I had to trust the two people that were in the water with me," she said. "You have to be aware and smart. We just stayed along the edges. The gators are out ahead of us."
Mara-Christian said she and her husband have hunted black bear, deer and other animals.
"Every animal that we hunt is a different experience," she said. "It's hard to compare one with the other.
"But this was truly a great experience, like I said, probably the hunt of a lifetime."