3 men rise to the gator challenge in S.C.

South Carolina's first alligator season in 44 years has produced its share of behemoth catches, but one of the biggest so far is a 12-foot, 7-inch monster caught by three gator-hunting novices from the Charlotte area.

Matthew Samuels, 22, of Mooresville, brother Chris Samuels, 28, and David McConnell, 29, both of Hickory, said techniques they learned on the Internet helped them subdue the gator after a five-hour battle.

They launched their pontoon boat Friday afternoon at South Carolina's Lake Marion, about 170 miles southeast of Charlotte, carrying a not-so-high-tech crossbow and arrow, tethered to 80-pound-test line, spooled on a deep-sea fishing rod.

With the help of a spotlight, Matthew Samuels said, they stalked up to nine big alligators and fired arrows. But the reptiles escaped by sinking out of sight.

Then, at 3:30 a.m., after 10 hours of cruising, Chris fired the crossbow and struck one in the neck.

A 90-minute pursuit in the dark ensued, and at times it was downright “eerie,” Matthew said.

“We didn't know how big the alligator was,” he said. “He would go down to the bottom and you could feel him (through the line) taking steps like he was walking across the bottom.”

The gator surfaced, then went down for 50 more minutes. When it surfaced again, the men shot a second arrow into the gator with 400-pound-test line attached to a float.

“Then he took off again,” Matthew said.

Eventually they pulled the gator to the boat and fired the first of 18 shots with a .45-caliber pistol to kill it. It was 8:50 a.m. when the trio beached the animal at the Big Oak Landing and Campground at Cross, S.C.

The men then drove back to Hickory and spent the rest of the day and evening processing the gator. They plan to have the hide tanned.

Matthew estimates it weighed 800 pounds, making it among the biggest taken since the gator hunting season kicked off Sept. 13.

With a growing population of 100,000 or more alligators, South Carolina this year became the eighth state to allow public hunting of the once-endangered species.

The season was deemed necessary by state officials because the reptiles are threatening people and pets. Last September, an 11-footer bit off the arm of a 59-year-old man swimming in Lake Moultrie.

The state's natural resources department issued 1,000 tags, each good for one gator 4 feet and longer. The biggest caught so far is reportedly a 13-foot, 4-incher taken in Lake Marion.

Even after bagging their 12-footer, the season isn't over for McConnell and the Samuels brothers.

They still have two tags between them and plan to go out again Oct. 10-11, the final two days of the S.C. season.

Staff writer Mark Price contributed.