While many gunners anticipate the first weekend in September every year to bag a 12-bird dove limit, hunters looking for a more challenging opponent look to the second weekend of the month, which begins the South Carolina 2016 alligator season. Every swamp, river, and lake becomes open hunting grounds for oversized reptiles where the tables can turn and hunters are no longer at the top of the food chain. 

And for alligator hunting duo, Brad Leigher and Hunter Neeley, the first Monday into the 2016 season was a success with a massive 603-pound monster that stretched out to 12 feet, 9 inches long. 

But it didn’t come easy this year for the duo. 

“They are real spooky this year,” Neeley said. “We found several good-sized gators throughout each night, but we wanted something really big.”

For Leigher and Neeley, it took three straight nights of searching to find this 603-pound reptile. And after they found this beast, the gator ran them around for over two hours playing hide and seek and almost took a chunk out of Neeley’s boat before they finally gained control. 

“When we finally got him hooked on the rod, he bit the side of my 1860 Duracraft boat and was pushing us sideway across the water,” Neeley said. 

Leigher and Neeley looked everywhere to find a gator of this size. They saw plenty of 8- to 10-footers around, but they wanted something nice. And after their last night on the water, their big gator surfaced 40 feet away right before they headed back to the boat ramp. 

“Brad casted for over an hour trying to get hooks into the gator, but he kept on going down before he could get a hook to stick,” Neeley said. 

Then, the gator seemed to disappear for over 30 minutes and the duo began to doubt their chances at success until an eerie noise resonated from behind the boat.

“It is hard to describe what it sounded like exactly, but we heard the gator take a huge breath and he was literally right behind the boat and after a few more casts, Brad finally got a hook in him,” Neeley said. 

Then, they fired an arrow in him, set the harpoon, and finally got the gator under control alongside the boat where the .45 caliber pistol slug finally finished him off.   

“We actually shot him a few extra times in the kill spot to make sure he was dead. I’ve had them come to life inside the boat before and I am not doing that again,” Neeley said. 

After taking over a half-dozen gators since hunting them became legal seven years ago, Leigher and Neeley’s gator from Monday morning is by far their largest alligator to date and will potentially rival anything else to be killed in South Carolina waters this year.  They wanted something big this year and that is exactly what they got.