By JIM FOSTER
Special to the Parade
Braxton Bielski, an 18-year-old high school senior on his first alligator hunt, bagged an 800-pound, 14-foot, 3-inch gator during a recent public hunt on the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
Braxton and his father, Troy Bielski, were among 481 applicants vying for 10 alligator permits issued through the Texas Parks and Wildlife public hunting program for a five-day hunt at the Daughtrey WMA. The coveted permit provides the only opportunity to hunt and harvest an alligator on Choke Canyon Reservoir, situated within the Daughtrey WMA boundary.
Each year, TPW’s public hunting program provides access to some of the state’s high-quality managed wildlife habitat to about 5,500 hunters selected through random computer drawings.
This season TPW processed 998 applications for 2,340 hopeful applicants in the alligator hunt category. The department offered 165 permits to go alligator hunting on five WMA’s (Angelina Neches/Dam B, James Daughtrey, Guadalupe Delta, Mad Island, and J.D. Murphree).
Because alligator hunting in Texas is conservatively managed, most hunters selected for these public hunts are first-timers and many have never seen an alligator in the wild. For that reason, TPW biologists go through an intensive orientation process and provide greater guidance.
“We went through a two-hour orientation and it was very thorough,” Braxton recalled. “My dad did a lot of research online about alligator hunting and we asked a lot of questions.”
Troy said he knew something about the area they would be hunting, having done some bass fishing on Choke Canyon years ago, but with current low water levels, the landscape was completely different from what he remembered.
“We spent a lot of time scouting some of the pastures in the compartment we were assigned, looking for likely spots to set our lines,” said Troy.
At one point, the pair observed what they believed to be a large gator in a cove and decided to place their baited lines nearby. “We didn’t pressure it, but while we were putting up our cane poles we could see it watching us 30 yards away,” said Braxton.
Choke Canyon has a reputation for holding some big old gators. Unlike the alligator populations along their core range in southeast Texas, these creatures are left alone to live to a ripe old age. A 14-footer is estimated to be between 30-50 years old, according to TPW alligator program leader Amos Cooper.
In the five years TPW has hunted gators on the Daughtrey WMA, several huge specimens have been harvested, including two in 2011 measuring over 13-feet and another in that size class last year.
More information about TPW’s public hunting program and the application process for special drawing hunts is available online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/hunt/public/.
Editor’s Note: To see more of Jim’s writing and photography go to: http://fosteroutdoors.blogspot.com/. If you have comments or news for Jim Foster, email him at email@example.com.