- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BRADLEY, Ill. (AP) - A recent advertisement in a specialty publication for trappers probably wouldn’t catch just any reader’s eye. But it fascinated Rendal Reece, of Bradley. The 59-year-old construction worker and avid trapper said he read it once and kept turning back to read it again.

The headline announced that an employer was looking for folks who loved the cable TV show “Swamp People.” The smaller print was an appeal for workers who wanted to sign up for 16 grueling days of gutting alligators. Of course, the inference was that some of those specimens might have be brought in by one of cable’s most unlikely stars, Troy Landry.

“I watch the show. And I grew up in Arkansas, so I had some familiarity with what was going on,” Reece said. “But, more than that, this is one of those things I always wanted to say I did.”

And he could say that knowing that the ad promised 14-hour workdays, $10 per hour with no overtime pay, and you had to provide your own transportation down there for the annual Louisiana alligator harvest.

“This wasn’t about the money. Heck, my check would hardly pay for my mileage,” he said. “This was just something I wanted to try.”

He called the number in the ad and they questioned his ability to keep up at 59. Reece said he convinced them, though, with his farm background and his trapping experiences. He packed a bag and hit the road.

“We slept 20 to a house. They had a lot of bunk beds for us. It was clean,” he said, noting that there was little time to enjoy the accommodations.

“We were up at 5 a.m. They served us a good breakfast and we walked over to the processing plant,” he recalled. “We’d work six hours and they’d serve us some good old southern food - beans, fried okra, collard greens and maybe chicken. We had beef and pork, too, but never any gator.

“Then we’d work another six hours and clean up for two hours. We’d get back and shower. They’d make us another meal. They’d also wash our clothes for us, so it stayed pretty clean. Not smelly.

“We’d go to bed early. There was no going to town at night. Then we’d do it all over again the next day.”

Reece reported that his hands were stiff and he suffered some from the multiple small stab wounds he’d get from his knife or the hook still in the gator’s mouth. But he never seriously thought of giving up.

“In my group, there was three of us gutting gators that would average about 7-feet, 4-inches (in length) and probably 250-300 pounds. And we did 4,600 in those 16 days,” he said. “That means each one of us did about 100 a day. I timed myself once and I did five in 22 minutes.”

The process began with the gator hunters delivering hundreds of the reptiles. Reece said there was 800 carcasses waiting on his first day. The next step involved professional skinners who expertly removed about 5,200 hides that would be shipped out to be tanned and eventually recycled as expensive purses, boots and other products.

With the hide off, Reece and others prepped the carcass for the butchers. Harvesting about 50 pounds of prime meat from the average gator, the ice machines were kept busy shipping out the cuts usually sold at around $3.75 per pound.

“I bought 100 pounds to bring home with me,” Reece said. “It’s good, but I wouldn’t say it tastes like chicken. I’d say it was more like frog legs. But what it really tastes like is just gator.”

And what would be next on this adventurer’s list?

“I’m pretty happy to rest up for a while,” he said. “But have you ever watched one of those shows where they go gold mining in Alaska? Maybe I’ll try that next.”

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Online: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, http://bit.ly/1EksKaV

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Information from: The Daily Journal, http://www.daily-journal.com

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