White Knoll cheerleader bags 'gator

Cammie Colin is a typical high school student in many ways - cheerleader, softball player, enjoys algebra, loves to dance, likes singers Freddie Gomez and Lil Wayne.

Oh, and the White Knoll High 10th grader hunts alligators, too.

With a crossbow.

In the middle of the night.

Over the weekend, she became perhaps the youngest female ever to bag an alligator in South Carolina.

"Don't be afraid, and just go at it," she gave as her advice for young people who might want to hunt alligators or do some other unusual thing.

Colin, 16, said she's still excited about the hunt, which took place about 3 a.m. Sunday in the dark headwaters of Lake Marion just south of Sparkleberry Swamp.

She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. The alligator she shot was 10 feet 5 inches long and weighed 353 pounds.

"My classmates were amazed. They didn't think I was serious about going gator hunting," said Colin, who wants to be a physical therapist when she grows up.

Hunting alligators in the middle of the night "takes a person who may just be a little more daring than the average person," said Jay Butfiloski, alligator expert for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

To bag her gator, Colin had to win one of 1,000 lottery slots available for the state's annual public alligator harvest, which runs through Oct. 11. The state allows the hunt as a way to harvest some of the estimated 100,000 alligators in South Carolina.

Some 3,700 people applied for permission to hunt an alligator. Colin won one of the slots, and thus was the person in her hunting party officially authorized to shoot the alligator. Hunters must use a crossbow or a harpoon - something with a line - so the alligator doesn't get away.

It was, as Colin will tell you, a team effort.

Four other people were in the boat - family friend and guide Jay Iadonisi; her father, Emil Colin III; her uncle, Ian Beck; and her 13-year-old brother, Emil Colin IV. Before going out, she received training in how to use the crossbow, which weighs more than 10 pounds. The crew was in an 18-foot aluminum boat powered by a silent electric motor.

Night hunters use spotlights to locate gators - their eyes reflect the light - and then get close enough to where the archer can take a shot. The alligator, once hooked by a nylon cable attached to the arrow, will then run until it tires, pulling the boat. When it does, that's when someone in the boat shoots it with a gun.

When Colin fired the crossbow, her arrow stuck in the alligator's tail. It pulled the boat for more than an hour. When the alligator tired, Iadonisi fired three shots into its head.

"You've got five people in the boat, and an upset alligator that doesn't want to go in the boat, and you have to get him up close enough to where you can make a clean kill, and to be as humane as possible," Iadonisi said.

Colin's dad is proud of his daughter. Hunting runs in the family, he said, and they are serious about following the hunter's ethos - that you don't kill wantonly, and you eat what you kill.

Said Colin's mom, Carrie, "We have 40 pounds of alligator steak in the freezer now."

Laughing, Colin said some people at school have given her a nickname.

"Almost all the teachers call me 'Killer' now."