It’s not the typical response one gets when asking their daughter how she wants to celebrate her 17th birthday, but high school junior Whitney Williams was ready with the answer.
“I want to go gator hunting,” Williams said, recalling the answer she gave when her parents, Chris and Tammie Williams, posed the question.
Still, it was typical for Whitney, who loves hunting, fishing and the outdoors.
“She watches ‘Swamp People’ on TV,” Chris said. “She’s always been a fan and said, ‘I’m going to do that one day.’ She just kept on after me about it.”
It took time to get everything lined up and to be certain they hired good, experienced people for the hunting trip. They finally located a group in Tallahassee, Florida.
“I found some guys who work for the state of Florida and go around surveying different places,” Chris said. “The surveys tell how many gators are there and they do egg collection and that kind of stuff.”
The weekend of July 30, Whitney and her dad found themselves in a swamp, doing night hunting with a bow and arrow.
“We went into this old swampy area,” Chris said. “They had to cut trees to get a flat-bottom boat in there. We went in there at night with spotlights and they had a little gator call.”
He said the call sounds like hatchlings, which attracts alligators.
“We had one jump up and bite the bow of the boat,” Chris said.
And Whitney loved every minute of it.
“That was crazy,” she said. “We’ve watched a lot of ‘Swamp People’ and I was like, ‘That looks fun,’ and I love hunting and stuff and thought, why not try something different?”
They went out for two straight nights, and on that second night they located a good-size alligator. At last, Whitney’s opportunity arrived.
She used a crossbow that had a buoy attached so she could keep up with the alligator’s location in the water, Chris said.
After landing two arrows into the alligator, they started hauling it in until it was close enough to Whitney she could use a boom stick with a shell on the end of it. It works by striking the alligator with the stick, which makes the shell go off. It’s a way to shoot the reptile without actually using a gun.
Whitney said her adrenaline was flowing.
“That was my first time doing everything with that type of hunting,” she said. “I had to prop the crossbow up on something. My whole body was just nervous and shaking. I’m glad I didn’t miss though.”
Though the hunt was successful, there still was the matter of hauling the gator back. Initially, the guides did not think it was that large of a gator — they told the teen it was a “decent size.”
“Then they said, ‘Nope, this is not a decent size. This is huge,'” Whitney said. “And when we spread it out and measured it, they were like wow, we haven’t gotten one like this in a few years.”
It ended up being 12 1/2 feet long and they guessed it weighed more than 500 pounds.
“We couldn’t even put it in the boat,” Whitney said. “We had to drag it in the water. It took five people to drag it into the truck. I did not expect it to be that big.”
Chris said the alligator hunt is the type of adventure Whitney enjoys.
“She likes anything that is a challenge,” he said. “She wants to show people she can do it.”
Whitney, a member of the basketball team at Covenant Christian High School, said she likes challenging herself, and enjoys hunting and fishing with her dad.
“If I’m not doing that, it’s either basketball or working out,” she said.
The family is keeping the alligator meat to eat and share. The head and skin also will be used.
“We’re getting the head and getting it skinned,” Whitney said. “I was like, ‘Dad, I’m totally getting the head of this.’
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with the skin, probably use it for like a knife holder and maybe boots. The head I’m probably going to put it in my room.”
Chris said he was glad to get to see Whitney go through the experience.
“She’ll remember that and tell her grandkids one day,” he said. “How many kids get to do that? And (get) something that size.”