ALLIGATORS AND LOST PILOTS WITH JEFF TATE
There were a few nights hunting alligators and lost pilots with Jeff Tate. I was the rowing and canoeing instructor at Camp Edgewood Boy Scout Camp. Jeff was the archery instructor. He was an excellent archer. I was pretty good, and we hit it off easily.
Jeff used to work as a roughneck on the oil rigs in southern Louisiana. One day, a fire, and a following explosion, blew him off the rig into the marsh. I don’t know if he had any broken bones, but the fire burned him badly scarring much of his back, head, and face.
Unable, or unwilling, to deal with his scarring, and civilization, he moved deep into the swamp, living off what he could fish and trap. He honed his skills with the bow and arrow.
He did eventually find his way back into society, and later, his being at Camp Edgewood.
We went through the Order of the Arrow initiation together. Each year, a member is selected by the other members of his troop to be in this special group. Participants go through a 24-hour “ordeal” to gain entry into the Order. An overnighter in the woods with the bare essentials is a part of the initiation. Along with the OA, two other occasions stay with me.
The lake at Camp Edgewood is just over a half-mile long and a quarter-mile wide. It has a couple feeder creeks leading into it at the north end where the Camp headquarters and outbuildings are located. The scout troop camping areas flank the lake on the east and west.
The southern, narrow, swampy end of the lake was home to the gators. They had to travel overland a few miles from the nearest bayous to get there. Not many, mind you, or big, for that matter. Just big enough to leave a nasty bite. They tended to stay in the quieter part of the lake, away from the activities of the wider north end. Until they got larger. As they approached three and four feet in length, and increased their range, it was time to remove them.
Jeff recruited me to help him catch them. I paddled the canoe while Jeff scanned the water with a flashlight trying to catch the reflection of the gator’s red eyes glowing in the dark. It might take a while to find the one we were looking for. Sometimes it would be in open water, sometimes up against the bank.
Upon sighting it, I would maneuver us, if possible, to approach from the rear, slow, quiet, and smooth, hoping not to spook it into a dive. If it did dive, we would have to start all over.
If we could get close enough, Jeff, leaning well over the bow of the canoe, would reach down and grab it. Ideally, on the neck just behind the head, with one hand, and the tail with the other. An explosion of water and action would ensue and if Jeff had a good hold on it, he’d swing it into the canoe, do a quick jaw tie down, loop it several times with another rope to secure its legs, wrap the gator in a burlap sack, and pin it down by kneeling on it.
If all went smooth, our task was accomplished and we’d call it a night. We never had one get loose in the canoe, but we did carry a couple of frog gig poles just in case. When we got back to camp, we’d skin it, cook it up, and eat it. HA! LOL! Just kidding. The gator would be released the following day, perhaps, into the same bayou from whence it came.
LOST PILOT SEARCH
At the Explorer Scout camp week, after six weeks of Boy Scouts, we would conduct a mock search for a lost pilot, down and injured, and unable to walk out.
With the Scouts gathered at the lake and dark approaching, Jeff and I would set out through the fields and piney woods in a direction of our choosing. We would circle round, and perhaps double back, wanting to end up a couple of miles away from camp within the thirty-minute timeframe we had to “get lost.”
At that point, we would shoot up a flare that arched high up in the sky. Shortly after we shot off the flare, we would hear the roar from back at the camp as our direction had been discovered. It was now “Game On.” We then had ten minutes to hunker down and await our rescue.
It was more like Hide and Seek, as we made it difficult for the Scouts to find us. Normally, a downed pilot in this situation, would want to be found as easily as possible. Soon enough, they would be canvassing the area in which we hid, sometimes within feet of us, passing near enough for us to reach out and touch them. Eventually, we would be found.
I had a great time in the Scouts and at Camp Edgewood.
I learned how to drive the camp’s old beat-up stick-shift Jeep. You had to double-clutch that thing. It was a beast. But that’s another story.
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