Lt. Col. Mark Mackey says some of his more domesticated friends and co-workers call him "plain crazy" for even hunting alligators. "Others say I take too many chances out there, and some have even said I'm downright reckless."
"I don't consider myself a risk-taker by any means. I'm comfortable with the way I hunt, and have nothing but respect for the undisputed top-line predator of the marsh," he said. "I've observed and hunted them enough to know when I'm in any danger and can tell by their body language. Every gator seems to have its own personality: Some are mean, mad and ornery, while others are surprisingly calm and docile.
"I've harvested or guided to 18 gators now, most of them big males, and the personalities seem to be about 60 percent mean, 40 percent not," Mackey said.
Still, there can be precarious moments.
"I once rowed over and got stuck on the back of a big gator with my canoe while alone and going into one of my duck hunting spots," he said. "It was a dead calm, pitch dark, super-foggy morning, and I was really trying to be quiet as there were a lot of ducks roosted in the area.
"Gliding along, I thought I'd ridden over a log until the big gator reared back and snarl-hissed at me. The weight of me and the canoe semipinned the gator in the shallow water as he thrashed wildly to get out of the predicament. He broke free in about 10 seconds as I frantically back-paddled and tried to maintain balance — but it was a dicey 10 seconds.
"So much for sneaking into my duck spot quietly," he said.