My first gator hunt took place outside of Tampa, Florida. A friend of mine invited me and several other guys on the hunt for his birthday and our guide, Tim, guaranteed the birthday boy that he was going to bring home a monster trophy before lunch.

When we met Tim at the ranch that would be our hunting ground, it was still dark and Tim passed the time by telling us how several cable networks were bidding to give him a reality show. By his words, we know Tim was the right guy to take our crew of both civilian and military combat veterans on the hunt.

By the dawn’s early light, we made our way to the water’s edge. While the birthday boy was being regaled with stories of Tim’s endeavors, the rest of us combat veterans grew increasingly skeptical.
Tim removed his windbreaker and wore a tank top displaying a set of scars along his arms. This was also the first time any of us noticed that Tim was partially missing one of his fingers. When we inquired about his battle scars he proudly replied, “Hazards of the job my man!”
From sunrise until about 1 p.m., we sat in the tall grass watching Tim tell our friend story after story of his gator exploits while using every piece of equipment he had to attract a gator. To pass the time, the combat vets made random bets throughout the morning just like we used to do over in that foreign desert – bets like who would have the most mosquito bites by the time we left, and who would the gator eat first, the birthday boy or Tim?

Come nightfall – when there wasn’t anything left to bet on – Tim announced that he was going to get the boat, and he ran off to the barn. He returned about 30 minutes later with a 13 foot Boston Whaler. Proudly standing at the center console he ordered all of us to climb in.
The next two hours where spent trolling the lake with hooks until we snagged an alligator of dinosaur proportions. It took all of us working together to drag it to the surface. Once the beast was alongside the boat, we finally saw how massive this thing was. Similarly, this thing saw how many of us there were and it began trashing even harder.

Tim started going through his gear yelling “Where is it? Where is it?” With all of his fancy gear, his strange gator calls and his crossbows, ‘ol Tim forgot the one thing we needed to claim this gator: The bang stick.

We had no way of dispatching this monster. Finally, it broke two hooks and swam away. All of us went silent with anger. It wasn’t until we were on our way back to Tim’s truck when we spoke out, avowing some choice words for “Mr. Reality Star.” The birthday boy was ready to call it a night, but the rest of us weren’t, and Tim promised us a monster trophy. Needless to say, ol’ Tim wasn’t getting off the hook that easily.

We retrieved the bang stick and headed back out. After about 30 more minutes of trolling, we hooked it again and went through the same cycle to drag it next to our boat. It was even meaner this time, which was a reasonable meanness, I supposed, considering the beast had two championship fights in one night. Its weight was tipping the gunnels of the boat to the surface of the water and it chomped at anything that was close: It barely missed my feet on several occasions.
At the moment of truth, Tim proudly produced the bang stick and announced to the rest of us wrangling this behemoth that we had nothing to worry about – he was on it.
The gator didn’t agree.

It made a hard roll, jerking the starboard side so hard that ol’ Tim dropped the bang in the water. That’s the bad news. The good news was that we were with a self-proclaimed future realty TV star who was so convinced of his own superpowers that he reached into the water with his exposed, tasty hand to retrieve it.

With the stick ready, Tim hands it to the birthday boy and steps back. But our civilian birthday boy got cold feet. He hesitated and announced that someone else should do it. He handed the bang stick to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted that gator – so badly that I didn’t think I needed the bang stick. But this wasn’t my birthday. The birthday boy succumbed to the heckling of his buddies, and by midnight, he had his trophy. It took all seven of us to load it into the back of Tim’s truck. Problem was, ol’ Tim lost the keys.