Rankin ‘Swamp People’ — birthday gift incredible family experience

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To say Richard Connelly’s 55th birthday present was something quite special and unique would be a jaw-snapping understatement of crocodilian proportions.

Connelly was treated to a trip to Lake Mary, just north of Orlando, Florida, to hunt crocodiles and wild hogs with his son, James, his wife, Silu, and Keenan Eetuk.

Richard said he had no idea the trip was coming when his birthday rolled around this past April.

Keenan Eetuk, from left, James Connelly, Silu Connelly and Richard Connelly display their gator catch while in Florida from Oct. 1 to 4. Photo courtesy of James Connelly

He said on his birthday, his kids presented him with a laminated birthday card that highlighted the upcoming trip from Sept. 30 until Oct. 5.

“I’ve received presents before but I was speechless when I received this one and realized what is was,” laughed Richard.

“I had no idea what to say when I received this gift.”

Richard said the gator hunting was a ton of fun.

He said it’s really hard to describe the experience, which, in one way, is a hunt and in another way is not.

“What you see on TV’s Swamp People is commercial gator harvesting but what we did represented the true meaning of sports hunting.

“We left the dock about 6 p.m., just when the light was starting to go down, which the guides told us is when the bigger gators, which are nocturnal, come out from the weeds and start to feed.

“We went to Tom Johnson River, about five miles from the dock, which they told us is about 10-miles wide in some places during the dry season. It was flooded when we were there and was was about two-miles wide.

Keenan Eetuk, from left, James Connelly, Silu Connelly and Richard Connelly display they gator catch while in Florida on Oct. 5. Photo courtesy of James Connelly

“So, we had everything there – water, little islands and grassy areas.”

Richard said the hunting process was nothing short of incredible.

He said when the party stopped at a grassy area, it was time to bait the gators both literally and figuratively, and it only took the gators a few minutes to start surfacing after they were in position.

“Some of the gators are moving all over the place and others are staying in one area. You pick one of the alligators staying in one area.

“You zoom over it in the boat and you’re using a fishing rod with 700 yards of line on it but no hooks. You drop your bait – a big chunk of beef lung which floats – let your line go out and keep going in the boat for about 200 or 300 yards. Then you stop and hope the alligator will take your bait.

“We did this a few times before it worked. You play with the line just like you’re fishing. I saw my alligator take the bait and go down. The guide told me we have to wait about five minutes to make sure the gator swallowed it because some of them just spit it out.

“It was nearly dark when the line started going, telling us the gator had it. You follow the line until you’re over the gator but mine took off and zinged away for about another 100 yards.”

Keenan Eetuk, from left, Richard Connelly, Silu Connelly and James Connelly display their catch of wild hogs while in Florida from Oct. 1 to 4. Photo courtesy of James Connelly

The group followed the gator until they were on top of it again.

Then the guide put a second line into play, and this one had hooks.

Richard said the hooks can’t actually penetrate the skin of the gator because it’s too tough.

He said the second line is used to bring the alligator closer to the surface.

“Once it gets to the surface, you harpoon it. You can harpoon anywhere you want except its back or head because the harpoon will just bounce off,” said Richard.

“I harpooned it on the shoulder first and got it underneath the tail with the second harpoon. The fight was on.

“I had no idea how big it was, but it was like trying to hold a beluga. It was thrashing, twisting and pulling the boat. After it calmed down, we used a six-foot aluminum pole to kill it.

“They put a .357 round on the end and you, basically, knock it on the head. There’s a golf-ball-sized spot on top of their head you have to hit because their brain is only the size of a grape.”

Richard said he was off on his first attempt to kill the gator.

He said that led to an even more ferocious fight with the beast.

“When I missed the guide said, “Oh, oh. You just pissed it off.” Then the thrashing and pulling really got intense, with its tail in the air and the whole bit.

“The guide reloaded the kill stick and I managed to knock it out with my second try before killing it the third time.

“Officially, my gator was recorded at 10.5 feet, but it had a chunk missing on its tail, so I call it my 11-footer.

“It was estimated to be about 50 years old and weighed between 550 to 600 pounds.”

The group also went on a successful wild hog hunt in Florida.

The hog meat was donated to local charities, but the Rankin group brought back about 120 pounds of meat from their four gators (you can only take the back strips and tail because the rest of the gator is either too tough or all skin and guts), and they’re having the skins tanned and sent to Rankin.

They’re also having the gator heads mounted, as well as having the wild hog skulls bleached and mounted.

Richard said the gator meat is white – it looks almost like white chicken or fish meat – and tastes a lot like chicken.

He said the trip was an incredible experience he’ll always remember.

“I learned an awful lot during this trip – like how much of a problem wild hogs are down there and how they destroy the land – and it was just so much fun.

“The kids always tell me I work too much and need a break, so they figured if they gave me something I’d have to leave work to go and enjoy that I’d do it.