On Thursday night, Sept. 19, Jim Strong and Ronnie Jackson became the third group of Sumter outdoorsmen to harvest a 12-foot-plus alligator in less than a week, and like the previous two, this one also came from the upper reaches of Santee Cooper. Strong and Jackson took their gator from the Rice Field section of Sparkleberry Swamp.

After hunting a few nights and having trouble getting in range of a trophy gator, the two men began pursuing an 8-footer around 10 o’clock. But when Jackson's spotlight revealed a set of eyes that were a bit farther apart than any other gator they had seen, he quickly handed the light to Strong and picked up his Shakespeare Sturdy Stik paired with a saltwater baitcasting reel.

One 50-foot cast with a weighted 12/0 treble hook was all it took to hook the gator in the jowls. The 80-pound braided line allowed Jackson to guide the gator close enough for Strong to hook up to the gator with a 14/0 treble hook on a long rope. Strong pulled the gator alongside the boat, "and then things got interesting real quick," he said.

"It's one thing to see a gator do a death roll on TV, but when it's right beside your boat, it will get your heart racing," he said.

The beast rolled against the bottom and side of the boat, knocking the two men around. It rolled and twisted the braided line and the rope all together, and Jackson tried putting his harpoon in the gator's back.

"It was like trying to stab a slab of concrete," said Jackson, who finally found pay dirt with the harpoon in the gator's underside. This gave the two more leverage, and Jackson soon had a clear shot at the gator's head with his .357.

"Two shots took care of him, but we put another two in his head for good measure," said Strong, who then called friend Danny Reynolds in hopes Reynolds could bring a utility trailer to the Sparkleberry landing.

"My War Eagle 1548 has high sides, and we couldn't figure out how to get the gator into it, so we secured him to the side of the boat and eased our way back to the landing," Jackson said.

Once there, Reynolds had a 15-foot utility trailer backed down the boat ramp, and Strong and Jackson floated the gator onto it. They then headed to Peach Orchard Processing in Dalzell, which has 24-hour access to a large cooler, allowing the men to go home for a nap before returning to skin the 12-foot-4 gator and have the meat processed.