Rattlesnakes are the stuff of legend. They are one of the many icons of the great state of Texas, right up there with bluebonnets, cowboys and longhorns. They are beautiful and mysterious, and yet terrifying. Their variegated colorful motif and distinctive rattle give them a unique status among venomous snakes. There are several rattlesnake roundups each year in Texas and in other Southern states that bring in hundreds of snakes to be sold for their meat and their hides. However, that practice has been outlawed in several states because it’s seen by many folks as inhumane.
There are many individuals who catch live rattlers as part of their daily lives. Some do so for entertainment purposes such as the famous rattlesnake wrangler Jackie Bibby. He has hosted a nature show for years called “Rattlesnake Republic.” He has traveled the country performing outlandish stunts with snakes. He has put 13 live rattlers in his mouth by the tail at once. He’s climbed into in a sleeping back full of them and had them coiled around his head. Sadly, one of his bigger snakes nailed him on the leg during a show last fall, and he had to have his lower leg amputated. So, even the most skilled snake handler is not immune from being bitten and must remain forever vigilant.
My older brother used to catch them on his place in rural Concho County in west Texas. He’d put several in a metal trash can in his garage. The kids would enjoy walking by there every now and then and kicking the can just to hear them rattle. It was spooky but thrilling. Sometimes he would get a snake grabbing stick and “play” with them on his back patio. It used to really freak my dad out.
Cole, one of my former students is a fourth generation rattlesnake handler. He told me an amazing story about an incident that happened while hunting snakes one time. He and his dad and granddad went out on their property to see if they could gather up a few snakes to sell. Apparently his granddad had had a few adult beverages before he left the house, which lowered his inhibitions and impaired his otherwise good judgment.
When the men came upon a ledge with an overhanging rock, they all guessed that it would be a perfect place for a snake den. Cole’s granddad, Willard, was the first one to arrive. Before they knew it, he’d lain down on the rocky ground at the mouth of the den to shine a flashlight inside. When he didn’t see or hear any rattlers, he scrambled to his feet. When he did, Cole and his dad were horrified to see that Willard had lain right down on a huge snake stretched out in front of the den. They all just knew he’d been bitten. They searched him over thoroughly, fearing the worst. They were surprised and relieved that he’d somehow avoided being bitten, though they didn’t know how.
Then they went over to check out the big snake. It hadn’t moved. They walked over for a closer inspection and prodded it gently with one of their snake catching sticks. The snake still didn’t move. Upon further inspection, they realized it was dead. Apparently, Willard was heavy enough to crush the snake or at least smother it. So they wouldn’t be able to sell that one since all their clients only bought live specimens. But they weren’t that disappointed. They were all so relieved that the granddad had survived his close call and would be to accompany them on future hunts. ❖