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Man arrested for shooting alligator to protect livestock

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A Sumter County man says he is unfairly being charged with violating the state's alligator poaching law after he tried to protect his livestock.

Reginald Blanton of Bushnell said an alligator was in the field with his horses on the night of June 21. His son, Jack Hildreth, tried to scare it away, but that didn't work. So Blanton fired a shot at it, trying to get it to leave.

But the state attorney in Sumter County said Blanton went too far.

"I thought maybe if I shot one time, he would leave," Blanton said. "But he didn't. I went up and shot him four times."

That's when the gator attacked Hildreth.

"He got within about eight feet of him," said Blanton. "That gator raised up. And it looked like he was shot out of a cannon, when he lunged at him."

The gator sank his teeth into Hildreth, leaving him with injuries to his knee and calf, and a broken neck from the way the gator whipped him around.

"He was a big alligator," Blanton said. "A great big, fat rascal."

Hildreth was in the hospital for 10 days.

"This alligator was clean. It looked like someone tried to put turtle wax on it. His teeth were even white," said Hildreth. "I was able to spin out. If he had got a full grasp on me, I could have lost my leg."

That aggressiveness, Blanton says, is why he had every reason to try to stop the alligator.

But after FWC trapped the gator and investigated, the state attorney charged him for possessing the alligator after FWC wrote in its report that he admitted to knowing that he couldn't just shoot it without a license.

He was arrested Thursday, and bonded out after four hours.

"I was shocked," said Blanton. "They had told me I wouldn't be arrested, that I was within my rights."

Blanton said his lawyer will argue that protection of his animals should trump the state's poaching law.

"That's all I was doing. I never would have went out there if it hadn't been for the horses," insisted Blanton. "To be put in jail, just like you are a criminal?"

The next court date is next week, but Blanton says his lawyer is hoping to have the charges dropped before then. The Sumter County Sheriff's Office could not comment on the pending case.