Benjamin Rader is an avid outdoorsman who has reeled in redfish along the coast, hunted elk in Colorado and gunned for ducks in Saskatchwan. But the most thrilling sporting adventure of his life recently unfolded, essentially in his back yard: the Ashley River near North Charleston. Rader teamed up with three friends on Sept. 8, the opening day of alligator season in South Carolina, to bag one of the biggest gators ever harvested in the Palmetto State.

“We saw him during a scouting trip the Tuesday before the season opened,” Rader said. “When we saw him, we knew he was the one we wanted.

“He came out into the middle of the river. He was like, ‘Hey, this is my territory.’ He wasn’t the type of gator that ate fish – he was the type of gator that ate whatever he wanted.”

The hunting party, which included close friends Jeremy Clark, Josh Sanders and Mike Benson, was hunting on Clark’s tag. He was the only one of the group who’d ever been on a gator hunt before, taking an 8-footer a few years ago, but this was a much different beast. Less than an hour into the hunt, they spied their new trophy.

“We knew it was him because of the (long) distance between the eyes and the snout,” Rader said.

Jeremy sank a harpoon into the reptile, which immediately sped to the middle of the river and went to the bottom. The hunters waited, knowing he’d have to surface; after about 20 minutes, he did.

“He breached like a shark, with his mouth open,” Rader said. “We harpooned him again and were able to keep him close to the surface then.”

The gator wasn’t happy, biting their 18-foot boat repeatedly before the hunters’ team effort finally subdued the creature.

“He death rolled a good bit, and we got a noose on his tail and tied him off to the boat,” Rader said. “We all had responsibilities. Jeremy hit him with the first harpoon, I stuck him with the second and held the rope, Mike put a noose on his leg and Josh squeezed the trigger of the .38. It was a four-man operation all the way.”

The huge gator was dispatched with two shots, then tied securely to the boat.

“We couldn’t get the alligator in the boat, so we had to tie him up to the side of the boat like the Old Man and the Sea, and idle back to the landing,” Rader said.

The trip took an hour, but the hunters didn’t mind. They listened to bluegrass music all the while.

“We were on top of the world,” Rader said. “It was a great experience. We feel blessed to have had the opportunity to harvest an animal like that.”

The gator was 13 feet long – “on the nose,” Rader said – and weighed an estimated 900 pounds. It is believed to be just the fifth gator 13 feet or longer ever taken in South Carolina.

“This was the gator of my lifetime,” Rader said, “really, of all of our lifetimes.”