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Hastings, Minn., couple find three-foot-long alligator in Mississippi River near Prescott

Derrick Radke of Hastings took this photo of an alligator in a back channel of the Mississippi River on Friday afternoon.

Derrick Radke and his fiancé were out for a relaxing weekend on the Mississippi River. They had boated to Prescott from Hastings and had pulled up to shore, where they were going to pitch a tent.

That's when Radke noticed what he thought was a muskrat swimming toward the shore.

The more they watched the creature, the more they realized it wasn't a muskrat. It was a three-foot-long alligator. A pet owner had apparently let the creature go when it outgrew its home. Radke has since learned the alligator was shot Saturday morning by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources personnel.

Radke and his fiancé, Cheryl McKenna, left Hastings on Friday afternoon for her first big weekend of camping. They pulled into a back channel of the Mississippi near Prescott and within minutes, the two realized those camping plans were not going to be realized.

"It looked like a muskrat was swimming up to us," Radke said. "The closer it got, the more we realized it wasn't a muskrat. We thought it looked like a lizard. Then I looked, and said, 'Oh my god, that's an alligator."

The animal ended up sunning itself on a log jam in the channel. Radke got into his boat and drove near it to snap a photo with his iPhone. He then got into the main channel and flagged down a Pierce County Sheriff's boat.

He realized he probably sounded a bit crazy when first explaining to them that he had just seen an alligator.

"I figured they were going to ask me to pee in a cup," he said, joking about how he figured they were going to test his blood-alcohol-concentration.

Radke then produced a photo and their skepticism subsided. He showed them where he had seen it, and then he and McKenna began packing up their camping gear.

"It was her first camping trip," Radke said. "That ended up ruining the whole thing for us. It might be a while before she wants to go back out there."

Along the route home, Radke bumped into a number of friends, none of whom believed his story.

"I thought for sure, when I got to shore, that someone would be waiting with a straightjacket for me," he said. "It was so hard to believe. Even having that picture, it didn't bring me any justice. I don't know how many people I ran in to that saw the photo were like, 'Yeah, right.'"

Radke and the Wisconsin DNR apparently believe the animal was released by a pet owner. It sure seemed domesticated to Radke and McKenna, he said.

"It had no fear of us being there whatsoever," he said. "I could have poked him in the eye if I wanted to be that brave. He just sat there on that log. It was definitely a heck of an experience, I'll tell you that much."

Radke said the Wisconsin DNR officials were able to find and then shoot the alligator sometime Saturday morning.