The Armchair Outfitter

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The Hunt for Big John

June 15th, 2008 · 10 Comments


by Jim Overman

Picture this: It is night. Snakes in the black water and in the trees, wasp nests everywhere, and a large gator that you cannot see at the end of your line.

The 2003 Georgia alligator season was a much-anticipated event in the life of ten year old Keenan Adams. The excitement began with the first rumors that an alligator season might take shape in 2003 for southern Georgia. This could be the opportunity for the young Adams boy to hunt the most storied animal of his childhood, “Big John.” Keenan is young but by no means a novice hunter. Currently he is the youngest person to harvest the World Slam of turkey hunting by taking all six species of turkeys found in the world. He also has taken many trophy deer, multiple limits of ducks and dove, and many small game animals. Nevertheless, Big John has occupied his dreams for as long as he can remember.

To fully understand the lure of Big John you must know his history. Roy and Buddy Adams, Keenan’s father and uncle, first noticed him during the summer of 1976. He was in the 75-acre Bateau Pond located on the Adams Brothers’ farm in Decatur County, Georgia. This pond is filled with large cypress trees and surrounded by an additional 125 acres of swamp, a pristine alligator habitat. This gator was an above-average bull who stayed in a particular area of the pond. Through the years, he managed to keep other gators away from his spot and became somewhat accustomed to the human visitors fishing in the pond. Big John became quite bold, and he would often lie floating and sunning in plain view. By the time Keenan was born in 1992, Big John was a local legend.

Disappointment came for Keenan with the official publication of the rules for alligator hunting. To hunt alligators, one had to obtain a draw permit. In the interest of public safety, the regulations allowed no one under the age of 12 to participate in the alligator hunt. Others could go along provided they purchased an alligator license and were hunting with a permit holder. Realizing that he could not hunt, Keenan and his father discussed the situation. They decided they would offer some of their friends the opportunity to hunt Big John if they were drawn for a permit.

Keenan and Roy called several people, including Keenan’s soccer coach, Hal Clement. Hal was the only one out of the group of 10 to 15 friends who applied that received a permit. Hal was excited, but he was not an experienced gator hunter, so he consulted with Steve Wooten. Steve had hunted gators in another state, and they decided to hunt together. As the season approached, Keenan watched Big John with anticipation, knowing that although he would not go on the hunt, in a few weeks he might actually get to touch and measure this mythical creature.

Hal visited the pond with Keenan serving as the tour guide, describing where the gator lived and how to identify this legend. Hal described the method that he and Steve planned on using to capture Big John. Keenan listened intently, wondering what Steve and Hal were going to do once this mammoth gator was harpooned or hooked. When the season opened, the hunt was on, and Big John was right where they expected him to be. As he was accustomed to boats, he allowed Steve and Hal to approach within harpoon range.

With a tremendous splash, the harpoon glanced off of Big John and he swam away at a slow and steady pace. Again, the hunters approached; again the harpoon missed the mark. “Okay, the third time must be the charm,” thought Steve, but it was not to be. The harpoon glanced off again, and this time Big John had enough. He disappeared under the black water of Bateau Pond into the safety of the cypress trees.

They spent the next few nights with a sharpened harpoon, but no opportunities presented themselves as Big John remained just out of range. Keenan despaired, thinking Big John might not be captured. Steve and Hal decided to try a different approach. They obtained a large shark hook and strong cord and planned on “fishing” for Big John. Once again, excitement mounted in the Adams household.

The next night the plan worked perfectly…almost. Big John was easy to locate, and he took the hook baited with chicken quarters immediately. The fight was on for the hunters turned fishermen. The gigantic gator pulled the now seemingly small boat around the pond for 30 to 40 minutes, slamming the boat into trees and through brush. Big John thrashed as the hunters approached in the boat. Then, with one massive lunge, he disappeared. The hunters slowly retrieved the line, expecting each second that Big John would appear, exhausted, and could be harpooned. As they approached the end of the line, they realized what had happened and disappointment settled over the hunters. Big John had literally straightened the nine-inch hook and swum away.

The hunting party spent the next few days obtaining a new and stronger shark hook and revising their strategy. They decided to consult Keenan about the location of other gators on the farm and discussed the possibility of leaving Big John in peace. Keenan told them that there were more gators in the other parts of the lake and that they had been nicknamed “Little John” or “Big John’s Grandsons.” The hunters listened to Keenan explain how to approach the area, and they decided to hunt on Saturday night. With only two days left in the season, their plan was to harvest any legal gator.

The plan went well, as a fairly large gator took the bait around midnight. This was a respectable gator, but he was not as large as Big John. The fight lasted several minutes until the gator made his way to the trees and wrapped the cord in the thick brush near the base of a large cypress tree. The hunters attempted to harpoon the gator, but it was difficult to get to him. They decided the safest approach would be to come back the next morning when they would have sufficient light to work. They loosened the cord so the gator could get to the surface to breath, hoping that he might not fight too hard against the rope.

Returning the next morning with harpoon and saws in hand, the hunters managed to cut away branches and capture the gator. They attached two snares and towed the large gator to shore. As the gator approached the bank, he began to fight again. He wanted no part of coming ashore. The tug of war continued for a few more minutes until they could position the gator for a safe dispatch with a handgun.


Keenan and his father were present as they tied the large gator to a truck and pulled him on shore to be loaded for transportation. They took the alligator to a large walk-in cooler for storage and official measurement. They contacted local Wildlife Officer, John Kirkus, to measure Little John. The scales available were not sufficient to weigh Little John, but his official length was 11 feet, 6.5 inches. He was the largest gator taken in Georgia’s first gator hunt.


Keenan and his father have continued visit to the pond, and of course Big John is still there showing no ill effects from the first gator season. Keenan remains excited about the possibilities of hunting Big John and, based on this hunt, Keenan had better do his math and physics homework to determine how to catch and land Big John if he wants a record alligator to go with his other outdoor achievements. In the meantime, Keenan is happy to have a picture with Little John and to dream of Big John. The question remains to be answered: Just how big is Big John?

Tags: Alligator Hunting

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bryce Stanfield // Aug 3, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Now that looks like fun. The only problem I would have is hunting at night. Not exactly like gigging frogs, is it?

  • 2 JimboFishman // Aug 4, 2008 at 11:59 am


    You are from Ramer….that means you know how to hunt at night!!!

    Of course the part you may be having an issue with is that THIS is Legal…and does not involve whitetails..or….deer.

    Just think REALLY BIG frogs.

  • 3 Bryce // Aug 5, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Hey Jimbo.I take offense to that night hunting thing.My spotlight makes it look like daylight to me. Would my .44 mag. be too little for a gator?

  • 4 armchairoutfitter // Aug 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I’m thinking just about anything could potentially be too little for a gator. I guess it depends on the gator. It seems to me that gators could make one do stupid stuff like shooting holes in the boat and such. That might be more “excitement” than I need, although I did try to hit one with a spinnerbait once in Florida. While wading. At night. Not one of my better decisions, but nobody casts better with a drink in the other hand than I do.

  • 5 JimboFishman // Aug 5, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I can recall a time that a certain fisherman in FL had a major issue while trying to save a lure. It was not that he was waist to chest deep in snake and gator infested waters…….it was due to a few reeds that held an extraordinary number of spiders. (I mean, the suggestion that there MIGHT be a spider around caused this fisherman to almost walk on water.)

    However, with that said. I do agree that you cast quite well while holding a drink. The issue here is….that is a novice skill. The important accomplishment occurs when you are able to set the hook and then land the fish without either putting the drink down or spilling it.

    I, being the true expert, suggest drinking faster as the correct solution.

  • 6 Bryce // Aug 6, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Mike,I don’t know about casting but I do know about drinks in my hand.I’ll match you one of these days.I agree with shooting holes in the boat excitement.Hell,when I was younger shooting contonmouths in Muddy Bottom was pretty exciting.It would be a real rush to come across a gator of any size in the wild.

  • 7 armchairoutfitter // Aug 6, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Jimbo, in the interest of full disclosure:

    1. That was my favorite spinnerbait;

    2. I didn’t bother the gators, and they didn’t bother me;

    3. Spiders are gross.

    I don’t know about landing the fish without spilling, but I’m willing to try. I do know that you can mix rum and Coke in a can by putting your thumb over the hole and gently swirling. Then you will be “gator proof.” That’s sort of like “bullet proof,” and it works just as well, too!

    Bryce, if you want to see gators in the wild, Mobile Bay is the place for you. There, or pretty much anywhere in Florida. I once asked my Florida host if there were alligators around, and he answered, “Well, this is Florida, and this is water. There are only two things in the water in Florida, alligators, and alligator food.” If we hadn’t been wearing life jackets at the time and bobbing in 60 feet of water at night, that would have been hilarious.

  • 8 JimboFishman // Aug 6, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Yes I recall the, “Well, this is Florida, and this is water. There are only two things in the water in Florida, alligators, and alligator food,” statement.

    But I also recall that due to a combination of Cpt Morgan’s Rum, Crown, Vodka, and a couple or three beers in the previous few hours, we were all three “gator proof.”

    Considering I do not drink as much these days, I think we should stay in the boat from now on.

  • 9 Bryce // Aug 7, 2008 at 7:14 am

    I went to an animal preserve in Homosassa Springs,Fl. a few years ago. Now they had some gators. They have crocs also. The best part of the day was feeding time. It was a little different being behind a fence than being Steve Erwin.

    I must concur with Jim.Landing a fish while holding a drink is a skill some of us can only hope for.

  • 10 Serena // Oct 22, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    This is great info to know.

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