The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District (SWG) hosted the 8th Annual Lone Star Warriors Outdoors Gator Hunt at its Wallisville Lake Project location, Sept. 28 to Sept. 30, 2023.
Six veterans took part in the event, which USACE co-hosted in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Chambers County Emergency Medical Services, and Lone Star Warriors Outdoors (LSWO)—a Texas-based nonprofit 501c3 organization.
Texas game wardens escort the veterans on their hunt, to ensure everyone is hunting legally and safely. Chambers County Emergency Medical Technicians ride along in case anyone is injured.
USACE Galveston hosted the hunt to manage alligator populations --- in support of its environmental stewardship mission --- and to help wounded warriors.
Six combat-injured veterans had their first alligator hunt, which consists of tying heavy lines to trees on a bayou bank with a big hook attached and baited with well-aged chicken quarters hanging above the high-water line.
When they weren’t checking alligator lines, veterans fished for fresh and saltwater species, with Wallisville Lake Project park rangers on hand to answer questions about the 23,000-acre expanse and the Wallisville Lock and Dam and Structure A. The lock and dam provide salinity control on the Trinity River, by opening and closing depending on tides, river flows, winds, and drought conditions.
“Our park rangers are out here all the time, taking care of the project, operating the project. I’m extremely proud of the work they do,” said David Mackintosh, USACE, SWG Houston Project Office chief.
The lock is also a great place for alligators to sun themselves, Mackintosh said.
“We have a big alligator population here at Wallisville, so one of the things that we want to make sure we’re doing to be good stewards of the land is to make sure we’re keeping populations in balance and we’re not having something go wildly out of control,” Mackintosh said.
The first day of the hunt was uneventful, with no alligators harvested, but on the second day, the action picked up.
“So far, there’s been about eight or nine alligators harvested. It’s been a great event so far,” Mackintosh said.
When they weren’t hunting gators, the veterans had plenty of time to get to know one another, which is the primary goal for LSWO, the non-profit which co-sponsored the event.
“The whole point of this is to take combat-injured veterans hunting and fishing, to work on suicide prevention and PTSD recovery,” said Chris Gill, LSWO, president and founder. “We want to get them out on a minimum of two days and three nights and get the camaraderie like we had in the military ... we want to get these guys to a point where they have a whole new group of people they can text at any point in time, they can call at any point in time to help them out in these hard times.”
LSWO invited six combat-injured veterans to participate in the hunt, and they came from places as far away as Kentucky, Alaska, and even west Texas.
LSWO made the arrangements for this year’s veterans to stay at the Cajun Outback Hunting Lodge in Baytown, Texas, which sits just outside the Wallisville Lake Project boundary.
“We do the cooking, we provide the food, and basically spend a lot of time cooking out here. We make sure the schedule runs right,” Gill said.
Gill expressed his thanks for the part USACE played in this hunt, and another.
“Thank you to the Corps of Engineers for working with us whether it be the alligator hunt, or the deer hunt we do at Addicks and Barker,” Gill said. “That’s just not an opportunity a lot of people get. It’s an amazing thing, an amazing opportunity, and I just can’t thank you enough.”
One veteran said he was surprised with how nice the accommodations were.
“I didn’t know it would be so nice --- we took a boat to get out here,” said Lucas Hancock, McKinney, Texas, former infantry mortarman. “It’s beautiful country out here and you’re with some great people and it’s for a great cause and everyone’s mentality is so positive.”
The lodge was a surprise and so were the alligators, Hancock said.
“I was kind of in shock,” Hancock said. “Getting up close, it was like getting buck fever, you just freeze up for a second because you don’t realize how big they are.”
Hancock beat the buck fever and landed the biggest alligator of the hunt, which measured 11 feet seven inches long.
“It’s very humbling being here and I’m definitely blessed to have this opportunity," Hancock said.
To learn more about LSWO, visit https://lonestarwarriorsoutdoors.org/.
To learn more about the Wallisville Lake Project, visit https://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Locations/Wallisville-Lake-Project-Office/.