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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/352

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

anxiously about, probably wondering how many of her family will succeed in running the very uncertain gantlet of life.

For, eaten while in the egg stage by birds and animals, and swallowed by open-mouthed, expectant fishes, and by other alligators—often led, if the truth must be told, by the interesting father himself—as soon as they reach the water, the early days of an alligator are full of trouble. That enough escape to prevent extinction, however, goes almost without saying.

Alligators are hunted for their teeth, which find a ready market when made up into pretty ornaments; and of late years extensively for their hides, which make a very handsome leather. For this purpose the older specimens are not valuable, their hides being too gnarled, knotty, and moss-grown to tan well. After ten or fifteen years the hide coarsens. It is always the skin from the under side of the body and head which is used, that from the back being so heavily armored with tough, horny plates and shields as to be practically useless. The flesh for food finds but few admirers. Like the eggs, it is permeated by a strong, musky flavor, too rank to find appreciation from a refined palate; but in some places the steaks from the reptile are eaten by the negroes and pronounced good.

To successfully hunt the alligator requires experience, for quick work is necessary, the brute disappearing at the least suspicion of danger. Hunting by "jack" is the usual method pursued, for the light seems to charm the creature, so that he may be more easily detained until a properly directed bullet speedily puts an end to his existence.

A professional alligator hunter, or a "'gator man," as he is called, leads a life full of adventure, but his business is upon the wane, since the fad for alligator leather is being pushed aside to make way for something later and more novel. Nevertheless, a description of his outfit may not be uninteresting.

A most important adjunct to this outfit is the man who usually accompanies the 'gator man upon his expeditions. He might properly be called the silent partner, for his duty is to instantly and silently obey the different hand signals, meaning "To the right," "To the left," "Stop," "Back," "Hurry," "Forward," "Spurt," "Slow," given by the hunter, while standing erect in the bow of the boat, when out with the "jack." Indeed, upon his alertness depends much of the success or failure of the night's work.

The other tools used by the 'gator man are a light, strong boat, a pair of light oars and a broad-bladed paddle with a four-foot handle, neatly coiled rope, a jack lamp furnished with a powerful reflector, an axe, a long, keen-bladed hunting knife, two guns (twelve-bore breech-loaders, for a heavy charge at one delivery is absolutely neces-