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Testing her wild side, lady bags an alligator

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MIAMI - Janet Kunde was enjoying herself at a fundraising auction in Homestead, Fla., when her husband, Cliff, told her he had just purchased a guided alligator hunt.

For her.

Oh my God! What did you do that for?'' wife demanded of husband.Yuck!''

For Janet Kunde is the last person you would picture trying to spear a hissing reptile. For a good time, the mild-mannered secretary-treasurer of Cutler Ridge's Gulfstream Elementary School watches cooking shows and looks forward to a remodeled kitchen.

Undaunted, Cliff recalled past indications that his wife has a bit of a wild side: She enjoys light-tackle fishing and once killed a wild hog at close range with an ancient carbine. He assured her that her gator hunt would be both exciting and safe - closely supervised by Danny SantAngelo, owner-operator of Okeechobee Outfitters, who manages 10,000 acres of prime hunting lands in south-central Florida. SantAngelo has been featured in numerous cable TV outdoors shows, bagging everything from lunker bass to exotic Axis deer.

Eventually, Janet agreed, and the couple drove more than three hours from Miami to SantAngelo's ranch on the Kissimmee River in Lorida, east of Sebring, on Sept. 6.

``I don't know what I'm doing,'' Janet freely admitted.

Following a relaxed, home-style feast of deer and squash prepared by SantAngelo's wife, Carla, the guide walked Janet through the motions of bagging a gator.

''You'll have a 12-foot-long dowel like a broomstick with a harpoon tip on the end of it with a cord attached to it,'' SantAngelo explained. ``There's going to be a light and you're going to see the gator in front of you. You don't throw the harpoon; you stick him right in the back. Just don't have the line tangled in your feet. You are going to fish him in. When he floats to the top, you are going to have to bang him in the back of the head with a .44 magnum charge.''

Janet was nervous, but she practiced hefting the ungainly pole spear. Its line was attached to a Styrofoam buoy that would mark the gator's position and also keep it from sinking to the bottom.

Well after dark, the Kundes and the SantAngelos set out on Danny's airboat into the marsh, Danny wearing a powerful headlamp to pick up the twin rubies signifying gator eyes. Besides the airboat's roar, the swamp was raucous with the grunts and croaks of frogs, crickets and gators.

Danny soon zeroed in on a cruising reptile in the glow of the headlamp. He slowed the airboat as Janet stood in the bow, brandishing her spear. As they pulled alongside the gator, Janet tried to plunge the tip into its hide, only to have the tip bounce off.

''Like on a pogo stick,'' Janet muttered.

The gator turned and hissed, then swam away.

Danny replaced the tip and reassured his reluctant hunter that there would be plenty more opportunities.

The next one came moments later: an eight-footer got in the way of a larger reptile and froze in the glare of the headlamp. This time, when the airboat pulled alongside, Janet lunged and stuck the gator hard in the mid-section. The line with the buoy peeled out into the water, and Janet almost went in with it. Cliff grabbed her in the nick of time.

The hunting party could see the buoy floating above a sodden tussock where the gator had sought refuge. Cliff helped his wife pull on the gator. They brought it - snapping and rolling - alongside the airboat.

Danny prepared an explosive charge and inserted it into the tip of a metal rod called a bangstick.

''Hit him right behind the head on the outline of the skull plate,'' he directed Janet.

At first the charge didn't go off, but on the third try, it went BOOM! - shooting blood and water into the air. The gator floated motionless but Danny hesitated.

''He's not dead,'' the guide said.

It took two more charges to make the kill.

Back at the hunting camp, she was asked what she planned to do with her trophy.

''I want the head and it's going to sit on the fireplace,'' she answered firmly.

The hide, she decided, would be made into a purse - especially for attending fancy banquets with rich folks, as in:

``Dahling, I just love your purse! Wherever did you get it?''

``Why, thank you! Actually, I killed it!''

As for the meat, it would be the main course for many a creative dinner at home.


(c) 2005, The Miami Herald. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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