Little girl, big game: 11-year-old Rachel Van Beek bags monster alligator
AFTON—One of the best attributes of a successful hunter is an ability to adapt on the fly, when even the best-laid plans go awry.
It's a lesson Rachel Van Beek has already learned despite being just 11 years old.
The young Afton girl hoped to trek to Wyoming to hunt antelope before the start of her school year, but the state's regulations wouldn't allow it. Instead, she wound up with a once-in-a-lifetime alligator.
She bagged the beast, estimated to weigh about 1,000 pounds, in the orange groves of Florida.
“We wanted an alligator eight foot or above, and that's what (the guides) said it was,” Van Beek said. “When we finally got done taking the pictures, they measured it from the ball of its nose to the end of its tail, and that was 12 feet and six inches.”
Van Beek began hunting with a turkey expedition when she was 10 years old, a trip that was designed to determine if the sport was something she'd like to continue to pursue.
“I knew that I wanted to keep hunting,” she said, “because that was a really fun trip.”
The antelope trip was next on her list, but when those plans fell through, Rod Van Beek, Rachel's father, invited her down to Florida with an alligator hunt in mind. He found Razor Ranch, an outfit in Zolfo Springs, Fla.
The Van Beeks admit that the idea at least partly came from the rise of gator-hunting reality TV shows like “Swamp People,” which documents the lives of alligator hunters in the swamps of Louisiana.
However, Van Beek's hunt differed from the scenes that typically play out on the small screen. In Florida, hunting with hooks is illegal.
“(The guides) got access to orange groves down there, so you can run around in air boats and all. We found hers in one of the big lakes on an orange grove,” Rod Van Beek said. “The caretaker of the orange grove, he called us the first day … and said he had seen an absolute whopper in there just a day or two before. We found it probably an honest mile away from where he'd seen it.”
Rachel got set up on a dike or berm, and waited for the monster alligator to come within range of her and her .22-250 rifle.
She waited about a half hour before her opportunity, then took aim. Rachel hadn't shot that particular gun before, so she spent time at the range the night before. Her shot from about 45 yards would need to hit a spot behind the gator's eyes that is roughly the size of the top of a soda can.
“We snuck down past this little hill by the pond and once we finally saw the alligator coming up, I shot it.,” Rachel said. “When you shoot an alligator, it's supposed to roll over and wave, and that's what mine did after I finally shot it.”
The enormity of the gator didn't strike the group until they got closer and then needed to pull it from the water.
“We all got it handed to us pretty good,” Rod Van Beek said. “They estimated somewhere between 800-1,000 pounds because the scale was tapped out at 800. He was big.
“We couldn't get him up on the bank, so we had to get a pickup to pull him. Some firemen let us borrow a trailer.”
The Van Beeks report that the 12½-foot beast was the largest one ever harvested from Razor Ranch. They hadn't heard from officials on where it might rank when it comes to youth records in the state of Florida.
After an adventure like that, what might be next?
Said Rachel, “I want to apply for my bear tag.”