the story that follows, you will read
the true account of a gator attack in
the panhandle of Florida. Author Jack
Rudloe details his tangle with a giant
gator and how he almost lost his life
while wrestling it, in an effort to
save his dog from a watery grave.
the wings of our minnow seine were piling
up on the edge of the ditch, I glanced
at the diminished water space within
the half circle and noticed with some
irritation that there was something
large, black, and heavy being dragged
along. It moved like dead weight , inert.
Obviously it was a log that could mess
up our strike. Usually the big expanse
of needlerush marsh alongside the creek
system managed to filter out logs. I
didn't recall any recent storms strong
enough to send anything that large far
up into the ditch. Maybe someone threw
it there. In any case, it would have
to be hauled out.
I turned my attention back to the net.
It was the critical time when we began
to draw the webbing up on shore. To
keep the lead line down, I crouched
down on my knees, bending way over and
steadily pulling the lead and cork lines
in together, hand over hand. If we didn't
keep a steady, fast-moving tension on
the wall of webbing, straining the water
and packing the shrimp and fish together,
they could get away. Escape lay either
over the floating cork line or down
beneath the lead line.
I glanced back at the obstruction in
the net and cursed to myself. If the
log became all balled up in our net,
we could lose the entire catch. I wished
we had a third person present to wade
out and drag it up on the bank. But
neither of us could turn the moving
net loose to do so.
I thought that something wasn't quite
right. The log was shiny, almost leathery,
I dismissed my concern and focused my
attention on the lead line. If I could
keep it pressed down tight enough, I
could perhaps drag the log and the catch
up on the beach without balling up the
net and letting everything get out.
I looked up again and, suddenly, came
face to face with a pair of large cold
yellow eyes staring back at me, no more
than four feet away.
the matter?" Anne cried, jumping
up from her crouching position on the
other end when she heard me yell, "God,
God, an alligator! Get away from that
For a few dangerous seconds I froze,
mesmerized by those eyes. My whole body
shook with fear as I looked at that
dark leathery skin stretched tightly
over the bony head. The coldness of
the gaze, the terrible alien focus-it
mattered not that it was only five-and-a-half
feet long. It could still do plenty
Over the years there have been a growing
number of attacks on humans, not so
much by female alligators protecting
their nests as by predatory males. Most
are maulings, but there have been a
Comprising bone and muscle and less
than one percent brain, the males can
reach sixteen feet or larger. The females
seldom grow more than eight or nine
feet, and together they fill the night
with terrifying mating roars and bellows
that shake the swamp with thunder.
People have mistakenly lost their fear
of these ancient reptiles. Alligators
have become the symbol of Florida tourism,
plastered on billboards amid the neon
and claptrap of tourist attractions.
They appear ubiquitously on postcards,
in animated cartoons, and as smiling
mascots of the University of Florida's
football team. But I had learned through
bitter experience to take them seriously.
They are not friendly stuffed dolls,
or inflated green floats in swimming
pools. They are throwbacks to the Age
of Reptiles, surviving for more than
60 million years, and among the last
true monsters left on earth.
In that fraction of a second, looking
into those eyes staring up from the
roadside ditch, atavism took over. True,
it was only a five-footer, maybe six,
but as the years vanished, terrible
memories returned, when I battled another,
far larger alligator than this trying
to save my dog. It happened at Otter
Lake, which was only a couple of miles
away on the St. Marks National Wildlife
Refuge. It used to be our favorite swimming
hole. Anne and I would take our eight-month-old
baby, Sky, and soak in the warm tannin
waters beneath the towering cypress
trees with their gnarled roots and buttresses
that rose high above that water. What
happened that morning on June 8, 1980,
could have been much worse.
I had just finished jogging along the
sand roads with Megan, my three-year-old
Airedale, and went in for our usual
swim. Then it happened. Even though
it was eight years ago, I could still
hear myself screaming, "Megan…
Come, Megan… Meegaan!" My
fright burst through the still morning
air in desperation and disbelief.
An enormous alligator had rounded the
curve of the lake shore and was bearing
down on my Airedale. The cold, gold
eyes, gliding just above the opaque
water of Otter Lake, were fixed on Megan,
my companion, my friend for the past
Never had I seen a living creature move
so fast, with such overtly grim determination.
As the beast sped into the shallows,
I could see ugly white spikes of teeth
protruding from its crooked, wavy jaws.
Megan was almost out of the water, swimming
to me with a bewildered expression,
unaware of the danger closing in behind
her in the lake where she swam almost
every morning after a three-mile run
Megan's feet hit the bottom.
I felt hope, joy. But the black, plated
animal put on a horrible burst of speed.
More and more of the knobby, black body
emerged from the tannin-brown water.
There seemed to be no end to it.
"No! No! No!" I screamed and
rushed forward, somehow hoping to frighten
it away, but the reptile couldn't have
cared less. Its attention was fixed
on Megan with cold-blooded intensity.
With an explosion of water, it lunged
upward, rearing above my dog almost
as tall as a man, its front webbed claws
spread menacingly apart. Time seemed
to freeze. Tyrannosaurus rex had come
confusion was transformed to terror
that froze her to the spot. From somewhere
inside the reptilian nightmare came
a hissing like a steam boiler. The hissing
became an unearthly roar as it struck,
clamping its jaws on my pet. Crashing
back into the water, it twisted and
rolled, driving her down into the mud
Something snapped in my brain. I had
to do something. Adrenalin surged through
me. With a cry of rage, of fear, of
instinct, I found myself running and
leaping through the air, onto the back
of the thing attacking my Airedale.
Now the dark water exploded and cascaded,
as the alligator slapped its tail. I
slid over its plates and bumps, groping
for a hold on its great back. I felt
numbing pain in my chest, as my chin
jammed into its ridged back.
My brain flooded with messages. It was
bony to the touch, almost dry, not slimy.
There wasn't an inch of give. As I struggled
with every bit of muscle to throw it
off Megan, it swelled with air, making
the hard plated scales that normally
lay flat rise upward like a spiny blowfish.
The thing was suddenly bristling with
Ignoring me, the alligator surged forward
and got an even better grip on Megan,
who all but disappeared inside the horrid
maw. My hands groped the soft underside
of the monster's throat, feeling the
alien beaded leather and scales. It
was almost flabby.
slapped again. Water exploded.
of the tail, it can break your leg!
I hung on, desperately clinging, and
tried with all my strength to turn the
animal, to keep it from returning to
the sunless, deep waters.
to force it up on land.
groped up to its mouth, right where
its toothy smile hinged. At least here
was a handle of sorts. But still, it
was no more than a skull covered with
leather. There was no flesh, no give.
I got a
good grip, dug my knees into the sand,
and yanked upward. The steel-trap jaws
wouldn't yield. I sensed them shutting
down harder, squeezing life and breath
out of my Megan. I saw a flowing trail
I had a weapon. A knife!
I'm running out of time!
again I dug in and pulled up on its
upper jaw, but nothing I could do distracted
it from its single awesome purpose.
Fortunately for me, the saurian's only
intent was to drag its prey down into
the lake and drown it. Its small brain
was able to focus on that and that only.
I was only a hindrance, not an alternative.
Maybe it thought I was another alligator
trying to steal its meal away.
my knees dragging through the weeds
in the sandy bottom as it pushed inexorably
back into the water.
With all my might, I slammed my fist
down between its eyes, again and again.
The only result was pain in my hands.
It was like pounding a fence post. Time,
depth, and distance worked against me
as the alligator dragged Megan farther
out into the water. I was losing the
I threw my one-hundred seventy pounds
into manhandling it, trying to turn
it back into my world. For a second,
hope returned. I succeeded. The beast
did turn. But just for a moment. Then
it lifted me up, swung around, and continued
on its course.
The eyes… go for the eyes, something
commanded in my brain.
My fingers worked their way over the
unyielding leather-clad skull. I found
its eyes, but the two sets of eyelids,
one membranous and the other a thick
leathery cover, closed automatically,
sealing off its only vulnerable spot.
Tightly closed, they weren't what I
imagined them to be, soft and yielding.
They felt like mechanical ball joints
on a car. With all my might I jammed
my thumbs down, but it was futile, as
if I were jamming my thumbs against
hard rubber handballs.
All my eye-gouging succeeded in doing
was making the alligator swim faster.
Black water closed over my head, the
bottom was now sloping off quickly,
and the beast had water beneath it.
Any advantage I had was gone. Now it
was rapidly entering its own world,
and for me it was no longer a battle
of land versus water; it was one of
oxygen versus the depths.
to force it up and get one hard gulp
of air before it pulled me back down.
Again I drove my thumbs into its eyes.
By now, I knew that my efforts to save
Megan were futile. Even if I could free
her, and she weren't already dead, how
could she survive having her bones crushed
and her lungs punctured by eighty spiked
teeth, each one an inch long.
Its long tail swept back and forth,
sculling it forward. I was towed rapidly
out toward the middle of the lake, no
longer a problem to the powerful swimmer.
I fought it to the surface long enough
to grab another breath, and then we
were going down, down, again. Down into
the lightless swamp water. I was exhausted;
my lungs were bursting. I could no longer
see any sign of Megan. My vision was
limited to inches-just enough to see
the alligator's coat of mail.
I let go and watched its plated trunk
churning beneath me down into the gloom.
It went on and on and on, like a freight
train. I saw the rear webbed feet, churning
one after the other, and then the narrow,
undulating tail with its pale underside
flashing. I could not see Megan. I would
never see her again.
I boiled up to the surface, erupted
into the air, swelling my lungs with
oxygen. When I could breathe again,
I let out the mindless despairing cry
of a wounded animal. My arms and legs
thrashed through the water, moving me
toward the cypresses and the beautiful
oaks with their long twisted branches.
Finally hard sand grated beneath my
knees as I scrambled up on the shoreline,
crying and yelling incoherently.
I turned and looked at the empty lake-it
had swallowed up all signs of disturbance.
Its calm waters mirrored the blue sky,
the stacks of white puffy clouds, and
the moss-draped cypress trees. An osprey
winged its way across the sky, calling
its highpitched chirp. It was as if
nothing had occurred.
I remained shaken and depressed. I had
fought with everything I had and lost.
I missed Megan terribly. I kept seeing
her golden shaggy face looking at me
in bewilderment as I urged her out of
the lake. Over and over again, that
big black head closed in on her. Slowly
I reconstructed what happened from the
bruises and scratches and pains in my
body. The long linear scrapes on my
chest had to have come from the alligator's
dorsal bumps, the bruises on my ribs
and belly from its thrashing back and
forth. The aches in my thighs were from
straddling it with a scissors grip.
I closed my eyes, the nightmares returned
and so did the words of Walter Anderson,
a hermit artist who renounced civilization
and went to live on Horn Island, off
the Mississippi coast.
What is man's relationship to nature?
If he makes friends with it, does he
lose the careless sowing of seeds? If
nature becomes a god, will it not also
become a demon and destroy him with
that same careless brutality with which
man destroys fish? If the brute is necessary,
who is to be the brute?"
with permission from Jack Rudloe's "Wilderness
Coast" 2005 Great Outdoors Publishing