Braxton Bielski, an 18-year-old Cinco Ranch High School senior from Katy, bagged the 800-pound, 14-foot, 3-inch gator during a recent public hunt on the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area. The alligator was caught last week in Choke Canyon Reservoir, in between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
Braxton and his father, Troy Bielski, were among 481 applicants vying for 10 alligator permits issued through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's public hunting program for a five-day hunt at the Daughtrey WMA.
"He's wanted to hunt alligators for years," said Troy, a Houston police officer who has applied annually to TPWD's special drawing hunts for the chance to fulfill his son's dream. "We got selected one year to go on a youth hunt at the J.D. Murphree WMA, but I didn't get the permit in on time. I remember Brax was very disappointed. This is the first year we've had to enter him as an adult and we got drawn."
"I always thought it'd be fun. Ever since I was eight, my dad was putting me in for these hunts," Braxton said.
But he couldn't have known he'd come away with an unforgettable gator as his first prize.
"When you have a 14 foot anything that close to you, it got my heart going pretty well," he said.
At one point, the pair observed what they believed to be a large gator in a cove and decided to place their baited lines nearby.
"We didn't pressure it, but while we were putting up our cane poles we could see it watching us 30 yards away," said Braxton.
Braxton chose one of the lines as his set; the other would be his dad's. When the two hunters returned the next morning, they realized they had their work cut out as both lines were down indicating they had two alligators hooked. A hook and line set baited with raw meat is used to catch the alligator; only after it has been hooked can a gator be dispatched at close range with a firearm.
Troy's gator turned out to be a huge female measuring 10 ? feet long, which, as it turned out was dwarfed by his son's catch.
"Our boat was only 17 feet long, so we had to get the ten and a half footer in first," Braxton said. "Then we realized we weren't going to be able to get 800 pounds also in the boat."
So father and son towed the 14-footer to shore.
"Everybody's face is just like, oh my gosh this gator was killed in this lake where they're fishing and letting their pets swim around," Braxton said.
Choke Canyon has a reputation for holding some big, old gators. Unlike the alligator populations along their core range in southeast Texas, these creatures are left alone to live to a ripe old age. A 14-footer is estimated to be between 30-50 years old, according to TPWD alligator program leader Amos Cooper.
"Choke Canyon has a larger size class than other areas because they have just began to hunt the area," said Cooper. "A large alligator in Choke Canyon is not unusual but expected. You won't see a lot of alligators on Choke Canyon but the alligators that you do see are relatively large."
The father and son had no idea at the time that the alligator might be a state record -- a big trophy for a first time gator hunter.
Braxton said, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to top a 14 foot alligator but I'll definitely try. It was really fun."
The permit provides the only opportunity to hunt and harvest an alligator on Choke Canyon Reservoir, situated within the Daughtrey WMA boundary.
Because alligator hunting in Texas is conservatively managed, most hunters selected for these public hunts are first-timers and many have never seen an alligator in the wild. For that reason, TPWD biologists go through an intensive orientation process and provide greater guidance than they would for more common hunts, like for deer or waterfowl.
"We went through a two-hour orientation and it was very thorough," Braxton recalled. "My dad did a lot of research online about alligator hunting and we asked a lot of questions."
In the five years TPWD has hunted gators on the Daughtrey WMA, several huge specimens have been harvested, including two in 2011 measuring over 13-feet and another in that size class last year.
Living in Fort Bend County, Troy and his son routinely saw alligators while jogging but being able to judge their size was tough. "I had no idea," he noted. "The WMA staff did a really good job of explaining what we needed to do. We knew this gator was big and wanted to be sure we set the bait high enough out of the water."
"If we had just caught the one, I would have been happy for Brax," said Troy. "He's the reason I was there."
The Bielskis sold their alligators to a processor. They'll get about 20 pounds of meat back and the skull of the 14 footer. That's a trophy Braxton says he'll keep.
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