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Hunting alligators, a renewable resource in Louisiana

Excerpted from Once Magazine:

Spencer Strub writes: The one with pretty eyes almost got Curtis “Rebel” Rageur. All alligators' eyes are like cats’ eyes, marbled and iridescent, lined by the tapetum lucidum that flashes in the night. This particular alligator, however, had unusually beautiful eyes. (Editor's note: Some images in this post are graphic.)

Matt Eich / LUCEO for Once Magazine

A baited hook hangs low to the water of Shell Island, La., where commercial gator hunters Julius and Rebel are part way through the annual alligator hunting season. The state of Louisiana is home to the largest alligator population in the United States, estimated to be almost 2 million. Alligators are North America's largest reptiles and are considered a renewable resource in an industry that has thrived in America's deep south for centuries. The first large alligator harvests occurred during the early 1800s. The alligator farming industry in Louisiana alone annually harvests 140,000-170,000 gators which are valued at over $12,000,000.

Rageur couldn’t help but stop and stare. The catch had been relatively simple: no bayou-bank scramble, no reaching under the boat to free a stuck line, only a hard pull, a quick haul to lift the alligator from the water into the boat, and a single gunshot to the head. The gator lay prone and still, dead enough.

Matt Eich / LUCEO for Once Magazine

Rebel eyes the shore for a gator that had taken the baited line into the reeds while alligator hunting near Shell Island, La., on Sept. 19, 2009.

Rageur turned, breaking his eye-to-eye reverie to attend to the other side of the boat. With his legs splayed over the alligator’s mouth, he noticed the alligator start to move. “When they start moving around in the boat,” Rageur says, “you get nervous.” The alligator leapt upwards, but Rageur leapt faster, saving his legs and other vitals.

Matt Eich / LUCEO for Once Magazine

Rebel plants a second bullet in the head of a gator that kept moving after being hauled into the boat while hunting for alligators near Shell Island, La. Each gator is then tagged before being piled in the bottom of the boat.

Jaws closed on air. Rageur drew his handgun and fired again. And again. This experience isn’t entirely uncommon: Rageur says that an alligator that looks dead may revive, even after being shot in the head. He has had to shoot alligators as many as eight times to keep them down. “It gets a little hairy at times,” Rageur admits. 

Matt Eich / LUCEO for Once Magazine

Bodies of recently caught alligators line the bottom of the boat. Julius Gaudet, 62, and Rebel average nine gators a day but this day landed thirteen.

Msnbc.com is starting a partnership with Once Magazine. They attracted our attention on a couple of fronts. First, in an age of ever more bite-sized journalism, they were setting out with a contrarian goal; to publish long-form stories each month. Second, they wanted those stories, which touch on a wide range of topics, to rest on “visually arresting” imagery. And they’ve done that, which is why we wanted to share an excerpt from one of their first stories here.

Finally, the founders are trying to change the traditional publishing model. Thanks to the democratization of online delivery and app development, they are trying out their ideas with an iPad app. The free pilot issue debuted in September, followed by their first paid issue in October. If you decide to download their app, part of the revenue from that sale will be shared directly with the contributing photographers.

For the full stories and more from Once Magazine:

Once magazine online

Once magazine iPad app