SUMMERTON — The area around the small town known as one of the crucibles of the civil rights movement is getting a reputation with tri-county alligator hunters. Hunters shared photographs with The Item of three large gators nabbed in the past week, the first week of the month-long South Carolina Alligator Harvest closely monitored by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Though declared illegal in 1964, the 44-year ban on alligator hunting was rescinded for one month each year starting in 2008. Now, DNR allows up to 1,200 hunters each year the chance to take home only one adult alligator each.
"My dad was the one that got the ticket in the drawing this year," said Jeff Carter, who nabbed an 11-foot, 7-inch gator weighing 680 pounds on the season's opening day, Sept. 14. He was joined by his father, Cecil Carter, and his brother and nephew, Joey and 6-year-old Rory, respectively.
"We went to Taw Caw," he said of the area roughly six miles southeast of downtown Summerton.
"Me and my brother have gotten probably four or five over the years since they started back with alligator hunting, but this was the first one my dad had ever been on when we got one."
Taw Caw was good to Manning residents Matt Casselman, Alex Brammer and Brad Phillips, who took their 11-foot, 1-inch gator on Friday morning. The trio went scouting in the area on Sept. 15 and thought Taw Caw was the best place to hunt.
"We saw a lot of gators, especially smaller and younger ones," Brammer said. "On Friday, we were only out there for about two hours. We got the boat in the water just before 7 (a.m.) and we were back at the landing by 9 (a.m.). The one we got was the biggest one we saw Friday."
Just a few miles away at Hickory Top, Summerton residents Wesley Ridgill and Joe Parmenter took a 12-foot, 5-inch gator that Ridgill estimated weighed more than 700 pounds.
"He was so big, and we only took a 12-foot boat, so we had to call my friend Big Country (Chris Warren of Sumter) to help us load it in another boat," Ridgill said. "It was an outrageous time. We got him hooked, and when his head came up out of the water, oh man."
DNR hunting regulations require gator hunters to "secure the alligators and bring them to shore or alongside a boat before dispatch" and disallows any "shooting of free swimming or basking alligators" or shooting with rifles at all.
The rules — and the animals themselves — make for a sometimes exhausting experience.
"Every time we'd get close in the boat, he'd go under," Ridgill said of his gator. "(Parmenter) cast on him and hooked up, but he pulled us around. We had two rods in him at one point, one of them for about three hours. It took us more than three hours to bring him. I can't believe he didn't pop us off, but we finally got two good shots in him." Brammer, however, said his gator wasn't much trouble.
"We were fortunate because it was shallow water to start with," he said. "We were able to put the arrow in him pretty quickly. He made it interesting and even broke a line and went under the boat. But after running around for a while, he was tired out."
All of the hunters said they had processed the gators — Brammer and Ridgill at Peach Orchard in Dalzell, Carter at the Manning truck stop — and planned to keep the meat from the beasts. "Oh yeah, we're keeping the meat," Brammer said. "It should make for good eating."