Stalking gators and boar on an extreme hunt with ATI, Rock River Arms, Benelli and Osceola Outfitters in Central Florida’s swamplands.
The vast majority of the time I spend with AR-platform rifles revolves around police work or training operators. Having fielded one in some shape or form for close to 15 years, it is a familiar system, and most of the AR-type rifles I’ve handled are configured for patrol officers, SWAT operators or even designated marksmen. I’ve rarely hunted with them.
Locally, most hunting is dedicated to coyotes. Tracking these creatures is challenging and requires some effort, making the light weight of an AR incredibly practical. The rest of my hunting experience has been mostly taking down hogs in Texas and Florida. I’ve used ARs in various calibers and barrel lengths for this purpose, and the platform really shines when hunting these animals. When Advanced Technology International (ATI) invited me to a writers’ event in Florida that included an opportunity to hunt alligators, I couldn’t resist.
Osceola Outfitters is located in Central Florida, just a short drive from Disney World and Sea World. With thousands of acres and swampland perfect for hunting gators, turkeys, hogs and deer, Osceola is really a hunter’s paradise. Well known for their trophy game management, they offer not only animals suitable for cooking but also large trophies. Nestled among the pines and palmettos, you are accompanied by eagles, sandhill cranes, various waterfowl and some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Most of the area is accessible by truck, but you can also track on foot, and for the truly adventurous, there is an airboat. These fast, go-anywhere boats are versatile and a ton of fun.
Flying into Melbourne, Florida, our group first stopped to get a license to hunt gators and then proceeded to the lodge. It’s an easy trip—Osceola Outfitters is only about a half-hour from the airport. Among the trees is a nicely appointed, air-conditioned lodge with several rooms, a full kitchen and a very comfortable trophy room. Trophy animals adorn the walls, along with a nice turkey and a few gator skins. A rather large gator head sits on the coffee table. The Osceola crew was incredibly friendly and helpful. All were well trained, professional and inviting.
Rifles and shotguns were the weapons of choice for this hunt. ATI makes stocks, forends and other accessories for shotguns, rifles, AK-47s and a number of other popular systems. The company’s products are built using the highest-quality materials with great attention to detail. Designed with the shooter in mind and offered at affordable prices, ATI products bring innovation to shooters of all levels.
For this event, products focused on two weapon systems. One of ATI’s latest offerings, the Raven Stock Package, is a 922r compliance kit for the Benelli M4 shotgun. Chosen by the Marine Corps as their primary shotgun, the M4 is one of the most popular semi-auto shotguns on the market. As an import, setting it up for optimum use has always been problematic. ATI has taken the guesswork out of that process, providing you with a collapsible stock, pistol grip, forend, five-round magazine tube and railed extension, magazine follower, integrated heatshield and end cap. The end result is a fully 922r-compliant M4 with a collapsible stock, an adjustable cheekpiece, a comfortable forend, a mag extension tube and a rail for attaching any necessary lights or lasers. There are a ton of features to this system, and as a long-time Benelli M4 user, I can say that the add-ons are all well built, well thought out and increase the usability of the shotgun considerably. For targeting, our shotguns had either an Aimpoint CompM4 or Micro H-1 sight. My shotgun was equipped with the Micro H-1, and for hog work, we loaded up with Federal Vital-Shok TruBall Deep Penetrator slugs.
Rifles were supplied by Rock River Arms (RRA). Proven reliable and accurate, these ARs were a solid choice. Equipped with accurate barrels, nice triggers and solid muzzle attachments, they were perfect for the task. Each was equipped with an ATI stock, forend and pistol grip. ATI Strikeforce stocks are comfortable, have adjustable cheekrisers for using scopes, and are easy to adjust. The company’s Scorpion pistol grips are some of the most comfortable on the market. ATI’s lightweight, free-floating forends allow users to add rails where needed. The Forward Stabilizing FSB nose cone allows you to anchor the forend in a doorjamb, fence or tree in the field.
For our rifle optics, we used TruGlo 3-9×44 Tru-Brite Extreme IR scopes. The Tru-Brite’s lighted reticle allows for use in low light, while its advanced lens coating brings in the most light possible. HPA and Federal provided the ammunition. My gator was taken using HPA’s excellent 60-grain V-MAX ammunition. Very accurate, it is a solid hunting round, especially at closer ranges.
Stalking Giant Hogs
It was finally time to go after some gators and hogs. As one might expect, mosquitoes, much larger than most I’ve seen, were everywhere; if you go, bring lots of repellent. Special protective clothing may be in order as well. And remember that it’s a swamp, so boots are a must. My LaCrosse knee-high boots worked perfectly. We didn’t find anything our first evening other than a billion mosquitoes, so back to the lodge we went.
Hunting started at about 0500 with sunlight just coming over the horizon. Our guide was Jimmy Roseman, an experienced hunter and taxidermist. Hogs were first on the list, so off we went to some proven spots. Along the way a rather large boar was spotted, so we drove past it and then stalked back about 100 yards. Our shotguns were pre-zeroed at 25 yards, so we quietly made our way to within that distance. Getting closer, a larger brown, spotted boar started to turn just about broadside to me, allowing for a good shot. Firing in a standing, off-hand position and aiming just behind the shoulder, the slug struck home and the hog ran about 50 yards into the brush and dropped. It turned out to be just over 200 pounds, and according to the Jimmy, it will end up on the wall of the lodge.
Rock & Rolling Gators
After dropping the boar off at the cleaning station and taking some pictures, I swapped the shotgun for a rifle and set off for a gator. Hunting gators was certainly new to me, so we set out to locate one in the 7-foot-long range. This is a good size for conservation as well as eating.
Gators have made it through most of the earth’s existence for a reason. They are smart and wary animals. At our first pond, we netted a really nice 10-foot gator. All you could see were the two eyes and a bit of her back moving in the water with incredible grace. Starting at a nicely hidden position, the guide played a recorded gator call (using a cell phone of all things—you have to love technology!). The gator started across the pond but clearly became aware of us and made a slick turn away from our position. Given her size, we moved along the bank to several positions in attempt to call her in or just get in range. After several minutes, it was clear she was not going to go for it. Each time we moved, she went in the opposite direction, just out of range. Given that our rifles were pre-zeroed at 50 yards, we didn’t want to take any shots beyond that distance. With one of my rifles and a 100-yard zero, she most likely would have gone back to the lodge in the back of the truck. But it was time to move on.
Driving through the property, we located another nice-sized pond and started calling. After just a few minutes, a nice 7-footer poked his head out from around the corner at about 100 yards. This time with considerably more care as the sun was starting to come out, we moved slowly along the bank towards him. We stopped several times along the way and repeated the call. Each time he would poke his head up and look around, but he stayed put. Quietly making our way around the corner, we set up along the bank and gave it one last try. After just a few minutes, he rounded the corner and started right towards me.
While hugely powerful rifles are not necessary for stopping gators, some accuracy certainly is. Their brains are pretty small and just between the eyes, down a bit and behind. The rest of a gator is pretty heavily armored, and a 5.56mm round placed poorly will likely go unnoticed. The ideal shot: through the eye and downward, towards the rear of the animal. As this gator started to come toward me, I chose a spot to hold just a tad above his right eye. Just as he came into the perfect range, he started to turn towards the bank; I squeezed the trigger. The 60-grain HPA round landed precisely where it was aimed and did its job immediately. The 7-foot gator started to roll in the water near the bank. The guide grabbed a pole from the truck and gaffed him onto the shore. Measuring at almost exactly 7 feet, he was perfect for some gator meat.
We went back to the lodge for some fantastic lunch, and then off for more hunting in the evening. Having bagged what was essentially my limit, I spent the rest of my time enjoying the lodge and the company of the staff, ATI personnel and the remaining writers.
From Swamp To Freezer
Most of the gators we took were in the 7-foot range, with one closer to 10 feet and a single trophy animal taken by an ATI employee. This gator was 12 feet long and weighed in at several hundred pounds. It dwarfed the shooter and shows just how big these animals can get. Hogs were mostly in the 100- to 150-pound range, with larger ones over 200 pounds. Meat-sized hogs were cut into more conventional chops and other cuts. The gator meat was mostly cubed and tenderized. All was put on ice for those driving. After a week in a deep freeze, the rest was shipped to the various hunters.
Jimmy Roseman is a fantastic taxidermist and guide. His prices were very reasonable, so I had him tan my gator skin.
ATI’s additions to the firearms worked very well, especially the Benelli M4 kit. One of these is eventually headed back to me for testing in my more commonplace tactical world—something I am truly looking forward to. In my case, the ammunition performed as expected, with one-shot kills on both animals. All in all, it was an incredible trip with great people and great equipment. I am looking forward to a return trip next year!
Rock River Arms