Gator girls brave backwaters to capture swamp monsters


Veteran hunters Lauresa Musgrove and Linda Demmer roam the Everglades to trap alligators so they can turn them into gator-skin rugs.

Last Friday was Ladies’ Night in the Everglades. But unlike other women who may have spent the evening dancing and imbibing in the Magic City, Lauresa Musgrove of Loxahatchee and Linda Demmer of East Lansing, Mich., bagged two nine-foot alligators hunting with crossbow and harpoon from an airboat in a vast marsh west of the Sawgrass Expressway.

The pair’s only real male assistance came from Bryan Swink of West Palm Beach, who drove them around the swamp, helped spot targets and loaded the bang-stick, or explosive charge, for the women to dispatch their quarry.

“I’d never done a ladies’ hunt before,” Swink marveled afterward. “That was fun. No mishaps. It was very relaxing.”

Perhaps it was relaxing because he was hosting two very experienced hunters. Demmer, whose husband, Bill, is the president of the Boone & Crockett Club — a national hunting conservation and record-keeping group — has been hunting since childhood. She has bagged Cape buffalo in Africa, black bear in Canada and a seven-foot gator on the Kissimmee River three years ago. Musgrove, a six-year veteran gator hunter, serves as hunt master for the Florida Youth Hunting program and is chair of the board of the Florida Sportsmen’s Conservation Club.

Musgrove was among more than 6,300 hunters chosen by lottery earlier this year to take part in the 2013 statewide gator harvest season that runs from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. Permit holders are allowed to take two gators of any size. Demmer signed up as an agent, or helper. Both women hoped to get a gator-skin rug out of the outing — to be prepared by a taxidermist member of Musgrove’s club.

Riding around the Everglades in Swink’s airboat, lighting up the swamp with a powerful headlamp, the party passed up a seven-foot reptile, hoping for something bigger. Around midnight, the widely spaced ruby eyes of the nine-footer lit up, and Demmer decided to take her shot with a crossbow.

“They were coaching me it was time to take it,” Demmer said. “After I saw where he was, I got a laser on him and picked an angle downward so the arrow couldn’t deflect off the scutes” — referring to the bony plates that cover the animal’s body.

“He went down and Lauresa was able to harpoon him.”

Added Musgrove: “He swam around and tired himself out a bit.”

As the two women pulled their quarry up to the side of the airboat using the harpoon line, Swink rigged the bang-stick. When the gator was beside the boat, Musgrove held the harpoon line and Demmer shot it point-blank on the top of the head. Then they taped its jaws and heaved it on board.

“You did excellent, ladies!” said Billy Boatwright, who watched the hunt from another airboat.

“You got the gator dead without him biting my boat,” Swink added appreciatively.

But the women weren’t done yet. After transferring the gator to Boatwright’s airboat, they continued combing the marsh for a second target. About 2 a.m., they found it — an almost identical nine-footer that Demmer shot with her crossbow.

This one proved a bit harder to harpoon, swimming almost to a nearby canal before Musgrove nailed it. But she stopped it just in time, then bang-sticked the gator when it was close enough.

The hour was approaching 4 a.m. when the hunting party secured their bounty and headed to a friend’s nearby camp to get some sleep.

But first they contacted their taxidermist friend to advise him he would be very, very busy for the next couple of days.

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