An 18-year-old high school senior from Fort Bend County has killed the largest alligator certified in Texas. Braxton Bielski, who was on his first alligator hunt with his father, bagged the 800-pound, 14-foot, 3-inch gator during a recent public hunt in the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area.
Braxton and his father, Troy, 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, in a news release. “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.”
The permit provides the only opportunity to hunt and harvest an alligator on Choke Canyon Reservoir, situated within the Daughtrey WMA boundary.
Each year TPWD’s public hunting program provides access to some of the state’s high-quality managed wildlife habitat to about 5,500 hunters selected through random computer drawings. Wildlife management areas, state parks and leased private property are available for these supervised hunts for a variety of game, including: white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn, javelina, alligator, exotics, feral hog and spring turkey.
Through an application process, hunters select from 29 hunt categories, including eight specifically for youths, and choose a preferred hunt date and location from hunt areas stretching across the state. There’s even a provision for hunting buddies to apply as a group — in some cases as many as four hunters can apply together on an application.
TPWD processed 998 applications for 2,340 hopeful applicants in the alligator hunt category this season. The department offered 165 permits to go alligator hunting on five WMAs (Angelina Neches/Dam B, Daughtrey, Guadalupe Delta, Mad Island and J.D. Murphree).
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. TPWD biologists go through an intensive orientation process and provide greater guidance than they would for more common hunts.
“We went through a two-hour orientation and it was very thorough,” said Braxton, in the release. “My dad did a lot of research online about alligator hunting and we asked a lot of questions.”
Troy said he knew some about the area they would be hunting, having done some bass fishing on Choke Canyon years ago, but with low water levels, the landscape was different from what he remembered.
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,” Braxton said.
Braxton chose one of the lines as his set; the other would be his father’s. When the two returned the next morning, they realized they had their work cut out as both lines were down, indicating they had alligators hooked. A hook and line set baited with raw meat is used to catch alligators, and only after they have been hooked can a gator be dispatched at close range with a firearm.
All the hunters participating in the hunt had landed gators, which proved equally challenging for the WMA staff.
“We only have five to 10 hunters out during these drawn hunts and most of them are new to alligator hunting so I try to stay in close touch with them,” said Chris Mostyn, Daughtrey WMA manager, in the release. “I tell them to have a strategy in place because they may have to haul a big one out. Turns out we had four gators taken that morning; it was wild. The Bielskis did a good job.”
Troy’s gator turned out to be a female measuring 10½ feet long.
“If we had just caught the one, I would have been happy for Brax,” Troy said. “He’s the reason I was there.”
Choke Canyon has a reputation for harboring big 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, said Amos Cooper, TPWD alligator program leader.
“Choke Canyon has a larger size class than other areas because they have just began to hunt the area,” said Cooper, in the release. “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.”
In the five years TPWD has hunted gators on the Daughtrey WMA, several huge specimens have been harvested, including two in 2011 exceeding 13 feet and another in that size class last year.
Alligators were put on the Endangered Species List as part of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. As a result of enforced laws outlawing the killing and selling of alligator hides and meat, the animals were able to readily breed and thrive, and in 1985 alligators were taken off the endangered list.
TPWD previously estimated the state alligator population to be the highest in Orange, Jefferson and Chambers counties, located along the coast and bordering Louisiana. There is no statewide data, but the estimate in those three counties previously was about 286,000 animals, according to state data.
TPWD data shows that alligators inhabit 120 of Texas’ 254 counties.
The Daughtrey WMA is a 4,400-acre low-fenced multiple-use recreational area. Located in Live Oak and McMullen counties midway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, the WMA is representive of South Texas habitats and is a component of the South Texas Ecosystem Project. The Frio, Atascosa, and Nueces Rivers join near the town of Three Rivers, just east of the WMA. The WMA occupies five noncontiguous parcels adjacent to the lake.
The WMA is named in memory of state game warden James E. Daughtrey, who was fatally injured in a vehicle accident while pursuing game law violators in McMullen County.