Which is meaner, a gator or a crocodile?
Oh, a crocodile! That’s why I admire Steve Irwin (of the TV series “Crocodile Hunter”) so much. Crocodiles are a lot bigger and a lot more aggressive. Gators don’t attack people very often. Usually, that only happens when a sow gator is trying to protect her young.
Have you ever eaten gator? And don’t tell me it tastes like chicken.
Aw, three times better than chicken! Gator meat is the best meat in the world, if cooked right. And if you can cook a good steak, you can cook gator. The best eating are gators from 5 feet [up to] 8 feet. You get a gator 8, 9 or 10 feet, they’re too old and the meat is tough and stringy. But smaller gators are delicious! It’s a Florida delicacy.
How long have you been around alligators?
My whole life. My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family own a (gator) ranch. The first time I actually caught an alligator I was 8 years old. He was 3 feet long. It wasn’t till I was 16 that I caught anything over 7 feet. The biggest I’ve caught by myself is 9 feet, and the biggest I caught with other people is 13 feet.
My uncle, Chris Rivers, filmed an ESPN outdoor segment where he caught a 12-footer by putting his hands over its eyes. If an alligator can’t see, he just sits there. Of course, he’s been guiding on Lake Okeechobee for 30 years. That’s another part of the business. People will pay good money [to] a guide for going out and doing the hunt [during gator season in Florida.]
Catching alligators ... I’m thinking that’s a fairly hazardous hobby or career.
Everybody thinks the mouth is the most dangerous part. But it’s with his tail that he does the most damage. That tail is pure muscle. You get hit by a 12-foot alligator and he can break your legs in half.
That’s on land. In the water, a gator is even more dangerous. They do a “death roll” where they pivot at the tail and neck, and they can do 70 spins per minute in the water. I’ve been doing this my whole life, and I will not be in the water with any alligator over 6 feet.
All the danger aside, gators are a business.
Depending on the time of year, we’ll have 4,000 to 7,000 gators on 100 acres. You have to gather the eggs from the sow gators in the (breeding) pens and put them into incubators. ...
Excuse me ... gather the eggs? Would that by any chance involve taking them from the momma alligator?
Right. One person stands outside the gate with a 30.06 rifle and you basically have to shoot ’em if something happens, though you hardly ever have to shoot them.
Even though you joined [the military], you were able to stay close to gators for a little while after you were in, right? There are gators in Georgia, right?
Right, I had a baby alligator in my barracks at Fort Stewart. I fixed it so he could get up out of the water in one end of the bathtub, and you’d go in there and he’d be looking at you over the top of the tub. Company commander made me get rid of him. When I took him back to the pond, he started callin’ to his momma, and she came right up.
I’m guessing word of your gator prowess got around.
We used to go out and catch alligators every weekend (at Fort Stewart). People would say, “Let’s go catch a gator!” And I’d look at my watch and say, “Let me see what I got goin’ on. Yeah, let’s go!”
Interview by Terry Boyd.
Spc. David Breedlove
Title: Cowboy, outdoorsman and gator expert from Lake Okeechobee, Fla.
Day job: Soldier with 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Idar-Oberstein, Germany
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