Bruce Mitchell – known as The Alligator Man – has become a local legend in Louisiana for hunting solo for decades, and his adventures in the Atchafalaya River Basin during alligator hunting season have been featured in History Channel’s “Swamp People.” For 11 seasons out of the 13 that had been aired since 2010, he captivated the viewers with his expertise in helping cull the population of the apex predators. Being past 60, Bruce had people wondering what’s keeping him busy these days, and if he’s still slaying in the bayous and swamps.

Get to know Mitchell Bruce

Bruce was born in 1960, and he along with his younger siblings grew up in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. He was just a little kid when his grandfather took him along to hunt alligators, and he’s since acquired the skills to hunt, fish and survive in the swamps.

He was 15 and Janet Kliebert was 13 when they first met, and they dated for a few years before marrying in 1980, after which the couple moved into Kliebert’s property. Their elder daughter, Lorraine Michelle, was born in 1981, and the younger, Janice Marie, came three years later.

From the get-go, Bruce got along well with his father-in-law as they fished, hunted and trapped together. He worked at Kliebert’s Alligator & Turtle Farm, where a million turtles and 10,000 to 15,000 alligators were raised each year. They had a fully functioning slaughterhouse in which thousands of pounds of alligator meat were processed each year.

Over a period of three decades, Bruce took on more responsibilities in managing the farm, as he was taught various aspects of the business by his father-in-law, while Janet handled the paperwork. The farm was opened to the public in 1984 for tours, but the farm closed its operation around 2010, for unknown reason.

Background on the show

“Swamp People” made its television premiere on 22 August 2010, and featured people who hunted alligators in the largest wetland in the US, the Atchafalaya River Basin in south central Louisiana.

As apex predators that moved fast with a tough hide and powerful jaws, the alligators were greatly feared. However, they were hunted not because people were scared of them, but because their skin was used in manufacturing bags, footwear, clothes and furniture. With a high demand for alligator leather and their harvest unregulated, there was a huge decline in their population. The American alligator had then been put on the list of endangered species in 1967, and after 20 years, the conservation effort paid off and their numbers increased. It didn’t mean that people could hunt them freely, as the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries set down the rules to protect them.

Culling their population had become necessary, because when there were too many of them, the food source in their natural habitat would be depleted, causing them to wander in search of food, and often ending-up in people’s backyards. Hunting season began on the last Wednesday of August, and for 30 days, licensed hunters could fill their tags issued by the department. They could only use the tags on the property that was indicated on their license, and were non-transferrable. The quota each season depended upon the number of alligator tags that were given to a hunter; a tag being attached to every reptile that was caught.

People could make a living out of hunting alligators, because one could earn as much as $35,000 in the one month hunting season. Bruce said that it could feed a family for an entire year, or at least get them through the winter season until around May or June, when it was time to go fishing and frogging. Hunters could keep alligator meat for themselves and sell the skin, but when the demand for meat increased, buyers wanted the whole alligator. Of course, the bigger ones were worth more than the small ones, but unless they hunted in open water, they could only harvest the ones that were caught by their baited hooks, no matter the size.

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The show captured how the hunters harvested alligators using their tried and tested methods. Each hunt was interesting, as alligators would put up a fight, and viewers could see how dangerous it was to play tug-of-war with them, especially the bigger and more aggressive ones. It took a lot of strength to reel-in the wild animal, and position it in such a way that the shooter could hit the kill spot, which was on the center of the spine behind the skull plate. The alligator’s skull plate was quite dense, and if the shooter missed the target, the bullet could ricochet.

It wasn’t just the killing part that drew the audience in, because the hinter’s culture and way of life were shown as well. The hunters spent time with their families before and after a hunt, and viewers saw a different side of them when they were with loved ones.

While everything that was shown on TV was real, it was revealed that the cast had learned to slow down the process of hunting, particularly that of being in a tussle with an alligator, so that the cameraman could capture those incredible moments. It was difficult, since they were dealing with an angry reptile, but they handled it well since they were experienced hunters.

Bruce Mitchell on “Swamp People”

Bruce stood out among his fellow hunters in his Liberty overalls and American flag head wrap. His adventures on the swamp as a solo hunter made him more interesting to the fans of the show, and gained him a following of his own.

Hunting solo

Usually, a licensed hunter was accompanied by an individual with a sport or helper license, but Bruce hunted solo. In the baited hook and line method, one person was needed to reel in the reptile while another one would shoot it. Adult male alligators could grow to 15 feet in length, about 4.5 meters, and could weigh up to 1,000lbs or 450kgs, while females were relatively smaller. Viewers could only imagine how much strength it took to keep an alligator in position using the line, especially since it would be thrashing wildly in the water to escape. That Bruce could do it without any help meant he was that strong and highly skilled. After dispatching the alligator, he would first tape its jaws shut just in case it was still alive, and then use a winch to lift it onto the boat.

In season three, he was given a hunting partner, Ron Methvin, who was a sniper on a SWAT team and also did a tour in Afghanistan. He was efficient and a big help to Bruce.

Hunting with Tyler, his sidekick

Tyler Boo, or Ty as the dog was affectionately called, actually belonged to Bruce’s daughter Janice, as he was given to her as a gift. Ty mostly stayed indoors, but Bruce had taken a liking to him, and started taking him to the bayou when he went hunting alligators. The two had been inseparable, which was why he was devastated when Ty was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. When Bruce could no longer deny that the dog was getting too old and too sick to continue hunting with him, he forced Ty into retirement, and he passed away in 2014 at age 13.

Bruce had lots of memories with Ty, who was a good sidekick. One time, Ron saw that one of their baited hooks had caught an 11-foot alligator, but it was resting on the ground. With branches hindering him from having a clear sight of the ‘kill spot,’ Bruce had no choice but to go down from the boat and use the line to position the alligator. Unfortunately, the rifle jammed, and as the alligator started going in Bruce’s direction, Ty left the boat, and the predator then altered course and headed straight to the dog. Fearing for his dog’s life, Bruce immediately put his weight on the alligator and shot it using his spare handgun.

Up to my neck In alligators

Posted by Bruce Mitchell on Saturday, September 8, 2018

Wrestling with a 750-pound alligator

Falling into the water was also a strong possibility when reeling in an alligator, especially a big one. Bruce had his fans worried when he fell off the boat as he struggled to control the 750-pound alligator that he’d caught. Fortunately, it was in the shallow end near the land, so he had a fighting chance wrestling with the predator. He managed to sit on top of it and keep its jaws shut with one hand before killing it with his gun. It didn’t seem that Bruce was concerned for his safety, and his fans attributed it to his experience in raising alligators on the family farm, and said that he was probably used to being up close and personal with them.

What happened to Bruce and what’s keeping him busy?

Fired from the show

Bruce was gone after nine seasons with the show, and his fans wondered what happened to him. Original Media, which produced “Swamp People,” came under new management, and resulted in the firing of several cast members after season six – Bruce was let go after season nine. Only a few of the original cast members remained, such as the “King of the Swamp” Troy Landry, and his sons, Jacob and Chase Landry. The powers that be deemed it best to introduce new people from time to time and create new storylines to make the show more interesting. Bruce had no hard feelings about it as he simply said that it was just the way things rolled, and he went back to doing what he usually did before he appeared in the show.

“Swamp People: Serpent invasion”

Just when Bruce thought that his TV career was over, he received a phone call from the producers wanting to cast him in “Swamp People: Serpent Invasion,” which they said would begin filming in two weeks. He said yes, and joined Troy Landry, Chase Landry, Zac Catchem, and the local snake expert Bill Booth in the hunt and capture of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. It premiered on 12 March 2020, and the show was renewed for another season, which aired the following year.

Back in season 12 of “Swamp People”

Avid viewers of the show were glad to see Bruce back in season 12, coming out of retirement to take care of the giant alligators in Myrtle Grove. It was only a little over an hour since he began to run the baited line that he’d already caught four monsters;bBefore long, he had 10 on his boat. He had trouble hauling in an 11-foot alligator, which was so heavy that the winch broke, causing him to lose his balance and fall into the water, but immediately pulled himself out before any predator in the area could get to him. After that, he had no choice but to tow his 12th catch back to the dock.

A week later, he was back in Myrtle Grove with an improvised winch. He noticed that the alligators that he had caught so far had bite marks on them, which meant that their price would go down. He then set out to capture the cannibal alligator, because it was costing him money. Bruce believed that the last one on his baited hook was the monster he was looking for – it was out of the water, and he quickly dispatched it because it was a big one, and he was worried that it would pop the line and escape.

On the last day of hunting season, he still had 12 tags to fill, so he went to an area he was sure was full of alligators. He said that the lake was surrounded by alligator farms, and they picked 60,000 eggs a year and released 15 percent of them back into the wild, once the reptiles reached four to five feet in length. His first catch was only seven feet long but it was a feisty one, biting the edge of the boat before Bruce shot it. By the end of the day, he was officially tagged out and had a boatload of monsters.

Turned in his tags after Hurricane Ida hit his home

After Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana in 2021, the house that his family had been living in for 40 years was almost destroyed. He said that it might take some time, but they would rebuild. What hurt him the most as he was looking through the devastation that the hurricane left was seeing the things that could not be replaced such as those that held special meaning to him like his great-great-grandmother’s cookie jar that was broken into pieces. The family camp was obliterated, but he found his grandfather’s pistol, a family heirloom, among the debris.

Bruce turned all his tags in for that season because of what happened. However, he still had to hunt an alligator because he wanted fresh meat, and hopefully fill his freezer with it. His friends helped him out and gave him a tag – he caught one, and later cooked some meat for them to show his appreciation.

Became known for his cooking skills

Bruce authored the cookbook, “Gator Man’s Guide to Southern Cooking,” and shared 20 of his favorite recipes that were easy to follow, as well as stories of family adventures; it was published in 2015. Some of his fans were disappointed when they received their copy, as it seemed that it wasn’t what they were expecting, and felt that it cost more than it was worth. Others loved it, and were happy that he wrote another one entitled “Gator Man’s Adventures in Outdoor and Dutch Oven Cooking,” which was released the following year.

He launched “Bruce’s Front Porch Cooking Show” on his Facebook and YouTube channel in 2019. He was invited to cookouts as a judge or competitor, and made a name for himself as a great cook. Since 2021, he’s been appearing in a weekly series called “On the Bayou with Bruce Mitchell” on the Blackstone Griddles channel on Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and YouTube.

Launched the Mitchell Swamp Adventures

Since the farm had closed, the family launched Mitchell Swamp Adventures, a guided tour on the property that included a South Louisiana Swamp Heritage Museum and educational stations. At present, the tour and their Gatorman Gift & Specialty Shop are temporarily closed, but the online store is open, selling merchandise including signed photos, apparel, knives and other souvenirs. An alligator claw keychain, a tooth in a bottle, and a well-preserved eight-inch skull are also for sale. It’s his daughter Lorraine who handles the gift shop, online store, events and tour bookings, and Bruce’s social media accounts.

Passing on his legacy

His adventure in the swamps during the last couple of seasons had proven that at his age, he was still capable of tussling with predators. However, the veteran hunter thought he was getting too old for the job, when he realized that he was having a much tougher time reeling and hauling these aggressive monsters.

During the off-season, Bruce spent time with his grandson, Chris, bringing him to the family farm and showing him how he fed the alligators, although the little boy only watched from behind the safety of a fence. Bruce is hoping that his grandson will take over the farm someday, so it was important for him to teach Chris about the value of family, working hard, and how the swamp could feed his family.

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