COTEAU HOLMES — It’s a simple vacation: You come out to the Atchafalaya Basin and shoot an alligator.
“Swamp People,” the cable television show on the History Channel, has popularized the idea and Billy Duplechein, 41, owner of Country Boy Hunting Club, wants to accommodate those vacationing out-of-towners.
Duplechein said tourists are willing to pay $1,000 to come out and shoot one 10-foot gator and spend two nights in his bayou dwelling near Bayou Benoit, just 15 minutes away from Henderson.
Hunters sell their catch for $26 per foot, which means $260 for a 10-foot alligator, he said.
“There’s no money in that, but if you sell hunts (to tourists), you can get anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for the hunts. That’s how you make your money.”
“People up North never seen ’em much less shot ’em,” he said.
So, Duplechein and others in the business advertise trips to city slickers and anyone else who want the rush of shooting an alligator.
A two-night stay at either his houseboat or his three-story treehouse in the middle of the swamp costs $1,000 and includes killing one alligator up to 10 feet long, Duplechein said. Each additional foot, he said, costs $1,000.
Duplechein leases about 1,500 acres on the bayou. He said leases cost between $3 and $9 an acre. Based on the lease’s acreage, Louisiana gives out tags and each one is a permit to kill an alligator, Duplechein said. For the month-long season that ended Wednesday, Duplechein had 21 tags.
In his first season in the business this year, customers came from as far off as Pennsylvania and California, Duplechein said. There was no problem filling the tags, and they could have used them all in one afternoon, Duplechein said.
As bait, he uses chicken and a 2,400-pound test steel hook, which looks inviting as it dangles from a branch above the water. He secures the end of the 1,100-pound test line tied to the hook to a tree onshore.
The higher the bait is raised out of the water, the bigger the gator it will yield, as only the larger ones can jump up to reach it. Once the unsuspecting reptile chomps down, the hook catches in their stomach, Duplechein said. And the gator is stuck.
But the animals’ insides are like steel. One “was so powerful that it straightened the hook out,” said Joey Prados, a mechanic who helps Duplechein with the hunts. Duplechein’s nephew Nick Louviere also works with him.
Then, they pull the hooked reptile slowly toward the boat.
“If you pick (up the line) slow, it won’t fight you,” Prados said. “You see on TV how they fight. They make them fight for TV.”
Then, the tourist takes hold of the .17-caliber rifle. “There’s only one spot in the ear that will get them,” Duplechein said. “You don’t want to mess up the hide. The more holes in the hide, the less money you make.”
It’s not always easy though. Prados’ kids watched as their dad and the others shot a gator 14 times before it was subdued. Initially, they pulled him onto the bank and left him after he was shot several times.
“We came back and he was going out into the water,” Duplechein said.
“He was going back into the water with his mouth taped and everything,” Prados said, laughing.
Many hunters sell their gator meat to Sidney Guidry Jr., who owns Cypress Briar Enterprises, an alligator processing plant. There, the animals are skinned and the meat is processed.
Guidry, however, does not buy the skins. Even Troy Landry, one of the hunters on “Swamp People” uses the plant.
A good wholesale price for alligator meat is $6 per pound, Guidry said.
“That’s decently high,” he said.
But the skins are what matters. On the larger animals, the skins will go for about $25 per foot, but the hide is sold based on centimeters across the belly, Guidry said.
The wild-caught alligators must be passed through a metal detector. Guidry has found license plates, canine dog tags and even a bucket inside them.
Contrary to what many may believe, the best gator meat does not come from the tail, Guidry said. Though his plant sells in volume and does not offer different cuts of meat, he knows the choice cut.
“If I want to eat alligator meat, I get it from the jaws. If a friend of mine wants alligator meat and he gives me time, I’ll get it from the jaws, (because it’s the most tender),” Guidry said.