Troy Landry, Alligator hunter and “Swamp Man”
As seen on the History Channel, Swamp People
It seems like a long drive down to Pierre Part, La., a small town that has seen a recent uptick of tourists for being the hometown of Troy Landry, best known as an alligator hunter and cast member of the History Channel’s “Swamp Men.” Though only 1 1/2 hours from New Orleans (almost due South), it’s worlds away in terms of landscape and culture, which actually isn’t unusual in Louisiana. Once you exit Interstate-10, the roads become two lanes; the houses are usually far and few between; the green countryside has some clusters of activity here and there. Water – be it bayou or swamp – isn’t far away, though you can’t see it. This was the path I took, ultimately finding myself at Duffy’s Shell Station. Awaiting me was Troy Landry; his wife, Bernita; a History Channel publicist; and the regular customers, as gas stations often are the social epicenter of country towns. (The station is owned by Landry’s father.) As we make our greetings, there are distractions from some tourists who have come in to meet Landry and take a photograph with him. He is wearing the alligator boots his mother bought him (visually answering the question: “You hunt alligators, but do you own any of the end product?”). We are almost on our way when Landry stops to speak with some men about crawfishing, another line of work that he’s involved in when not hunting during the brief alligator season. Landry, as one can already surmise from the show, is in constant motion, whether he’s chatting up friends or catching alligators. Soon enough we jump in his pickup truck and we’re all on the way to his family’s camp on Lake Verret. You may have seen it on the show – it’s where the family comes to eat, play and recount true tales about alligators that didn’t get away.
Call it a second Cajun renaissance. Instead of blackened redfish and Zydeco music as the cultural touchstones – as in the 1980s – today, with “Swamp People,” it’s alligators and white shrimp boots. Instead of “cher,” we now have “tree shaker.” (If you haven’t watched the show, it’s an alligator on a line tangled up in the weeds and trees.) The accents remain the same, though Landry’s Cajun inflections are much more pronounced than his wife’s, or in fact anyone else I’ve met in southern Louisiana.
His family has deep roots in the region – five generations of Landrys have been shrimpers, trappers, fishermen, moss peddlers, lumberjacks and hunters. Landry continues his family’s traditions – with one of them now being broadcast Thursday nights. Joining him on the show is his son Jacob – who’s a little less loquacious than his father, whose nicknames for alligators – Big Head and Loch Ness – reveal his sense of humor and irony. Landry, as I find out, has been hunting alligators with his family since he was a little boy, and has hunted on his own for 18 to 20 alligator seasons.
Not just anyone can be an alligator hunter – it is regulated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, which clearly defines the hunting territory as well as limits the tags per hunter, which is a source of stress on the show with other hunters – if you don’t use all your tags, you lose them. The department’s alligator management program is a success story of wildlife conservation. Alligator hunting was prohibited in 1962 due to over-harvesting alligators. In ’72, hunting was instituted in Cameron Parish, and by ’81, regulated alligator hunting was open statewide. Alligators, by the way, are the largest reptile in North America and can grow anywhere between eight to 12 feet, with males larger than females. The state also has the largest population of alligators – according the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, it’s approaching 2 million.
Now, back to Landry’s fans. After leaving the camp, I ask if he’s seen bobcats or one of the fabled panthers rumored to live deep in the woods. (As if there aren’t any other hazards out there!) Landry says yes to bobcats, as he’s placed cameras around the forest and has caught them on film; he says he hasn’t seen a panther, yet has friends who have. As we pull up, there’s a gathering in front of his father’s gas station – obviously tourists as they aren’t dressed for fishing or hunting. With 19,500 Facebook fans and counting, Landry seemingly never tires of his fans and greets them warmly. Unlike alligators.
“Swamp Men” can be seen on the History Channel, and has started its second season.
Age: 50 Profession: Alligator hunter during the season, crawfish harvester, wholesaler and distributor in the off- season. He also raises beagles. Born/raised: Pierre Part, La. Family: Wife, Bernita; sons Brandon, Jacob and Chase.
Two grandchildren with another on the way. Favorite book: I like books about the outdoors, as well as adventure.
I’m also a history fanatic. Favorite movie: I like comedies. I really liked Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor.
Favorite TV show (other than your own!): “Pawn Stars” and “Ax Men.” I like “Ax Men” because I’m an outdoorsman and on my day off, you can find me cutting down trees. Favorite music: Hank Williams and Dan Rich, a swamp pop musician from Louisiana. Favorite food: Wild game: squirrel, alligator, rabbit and fish. I really like turtle soup. Something with a piquant sauce on it. Hobby: I love to hunt and I fish a little. But I really like to go into the woods and cut down trees. Favorite vacation: I enjoy cruises. I want to go to Yellowstone, go to the park where the big redwood forests are, and see the Grand Tetons.
Do you ever get lost in the bayous and the swamps? I got lost when I was a little kid, but I look at them now like they’re highways with no signs. The bayous are my highway. I’ve been on them all my life, so I know my way.
Tell me about alligator season. It’s two zones – east and west – and only lasts 30 days. The east starts on the last Wednesday in August, and the west zone starts the first Wednesday in September. I hunt in both zones, usually five weeks. I try to get the most alligators in August, because there’s usually a cool front that comes in the middle of September and the alligators stop eating and go into their dens.
You hunt alligators, but you also say that you give back to Mother Nature. I do like to give back to Mother Nature. I like to cut down trees to clear the land for the animals, and get rid of the brush by the water so mama alligators will come up and make a nest.
What can you catch in Lake Verret, by your family’s camp? Bass, sac-a-lait, catfish (and) big alligators.
It’s a big lake. Have you seen any alligators in the middle of the lake (as from what I know, alligators tend to stay near shore)? If an alligator is hungry, they’ll go anywhere. If you have a dog on a dock, you will have alligators lurking there in 10 minutes. [Ed. Note: I then referred to the YouTube video with the cats jabbing an alligator.] Those alligators weren’t hungry, that’s why you didn’t see the cats attacked.
How many tags for alligators do you have? 320. I’ve usually completed my quota by the middle of September. I should have more tags this season.
Have you been bitten by an alligator? I was almost bitten by one seven or eight years ago. I was fishing and we had seen a couple of alligators. One of my lines got tangled up in the grass and what looked like grass all of a sudden moved and lunged at me, almost getting my arm, but it got the side of the boat instead. Some of the teeth fell into the boat.
What are your hours during the season? Seven days, up before daylight, returning at 9 or 10 at night. I usually return four or five times a day to drop off alligators. Sometimes I take a second boat, which has ice at the bottom, and put the alligators in that.
What’s the most alligators you’ve caught in one day? 82. And that’s a record. But in a normal season, I average about 30 to 40 a day; 50 to 60 in some years.
What’s the average size of the alligators you catch? 8 1/2 feet.
Days off? Sunday. But you can find me cutting down trees.
True confession: I’ve got a big heart. It takes a lot, but if you push my button the wrong way, I have a bad temper.
Meet Troy Landry on line by clicking here