By Victoria Hansen
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- He goes to work on the water. His office mates are blue heron, bald eagles, and egrets. His job? Ron Russell is a gator hunter.
"I deal with these critters day in day out 365 days a year," Russell said.
If there's a gator is someone's back yard that's become a nuisance, they call Russell. If the Department of Natural Resources needs a gator removed, Russell gets the call. If hunters want a guide during the public hunting season, it's Russell's phone that rings.
Ron Russell started his company, Gator Getter Consultants, more than a decade ago with the help of his sons. But he doesn't just want to "get" gators as in hunt them. He wants people to "get" them, as in understand them.
"I've caught hundreds if not thousands of gators. I've had two in my whole career that actually worried me," he said.
One was 12-foot "Charlie" at the old Navy base. Russell was called out to move him because he had gotten too used to people. The other was a gator that was kept in captivity.
"And yes, I've been bit. You deal with enough of them you're going to make a mistake and they're still trying to protect themselves once you catch them," he said.
Russell says gators don't need to be feared but respected. He says hunting them, as the state has allowed for the past four years, imparts fear that could ultimately save the prehistoric creatures.
"It's going to get tougher and tougher to harvest alligators as the years go by. And that's a good thing."
For a man who hunts alligators, he certainly seems to like them. His reaction to an 10-foot gator's furious flee for life is not what you would expect.
"That's one of my big boys. I don't name them, but I'd like to sometimes. That's an awesome animal, I mean just the sheer presence of that animal is unbelievable."
So why does he hunt them? He says to keep the population manageable, and remove gators that have gotten dangerously comfortable with humans. We, he says, should be feared.
What's more Russell believes those huge trophy gators often seen in pictures with hunters, should be left alone. He argues they will continue to breed a strong species and take care of problem gators, by eating them.
"Once you kill a 50-year-old gator we're never going to see it again in our lifetime," he said. "That gator is going to take another 40 years to have a gator that size again."
These living fossils date back to the dinosaurs. Russell hopes through regulation and education, alligators will live on long after we're gone.