Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup — Crazy Bubbas, Cooters and a Bazillion Angry Snakes

Sweetwater sign

snake holding

There are two kinds of people in the world.

There are people like me, who say the only good snake is a dead snake; one that has been repeatedly shot or chopped-up with a shovel, bitten by the dog, dropped into the burn barrel with long tongs, and then covered with diesel and “insnakerated.

And then there are the insane people who compete in the annual Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Tx.  Inbred people who want to be up close and personal with rattlesnakes. People who intentionally seek rattlesnakes out, catch them and even, Lord have mercy, get in a pit with thousands of them.

In case you missed the nuance, the people in the second group are out of their slither-friggen minds.

They desperately need to spend a few days in Eastern Oklahoma with my sister, my brother-in-law, and Katy, to learn their tried-and-true system for “How To Deal With Snakes.”

I have written before about Katy, below, who I nominated for Official State Dog of Oklahoma.

 

Katy

 

Katy is a snake-finding machine.  She races around the farm, “sweeping” the area with her super-delicate nose.  When she smells an evil, despicable, heinous snake, she emits the unmistakable  “Official Snake Bark”.

Alerted to the presence of a snake, my brother-in-law, armed with either a 12-gauge or a long-handled shovel, then proceeds to de-snakify the rattlesnake, copperhead or whatever, as in Exhibit A, above.  This snake is way dead, thanks to a stove-in head.  Yet Katy remains vigilant until the snake is tossed into the burn barrel. Good dog, Katy!

Rattlesnakes R Us

Although I have always been snake averse, I decided to take my new Chinese bride to attend the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup back in about 1986.  (Who says romance is dead? Not this blog).

Back then, you could go on a *100%-authentic snake hunt that would today have liability lawyers slither all over the place, sensing imminent death and huge lawsuits.

If I were to describe the people who take you on Rattlesnake Roundups, I would note that they:

  • are in-bred, insane, absolutely crazy lunatics (I hope I have not nuanced this too much)
  • wear thick jeans and boots that go high up their calves
  • tightly tape the legs of their pants to the tops of their boots for a very good reason
  • risk their lives to catch enough snakes so that, if they win, they maybe will make $250
  • if they do not win, they will earn a premium for every pound of Western Diamondback rattler that they turn in.

In case you dozed off, let me repeat point No. 5… They are paid by the pound for the rattlesnakes they caught.

The people who took this blog on our Rattlesnake Roundup were, let’s say, Bubba and Cooter.

Both Bubba and Cooter had been on many, many Rattlesnake Roundups.  Each had giant raw hands and fingers the size of sausages. Each man could point to a scar where a rattlesnake had bitten him.

Again, just to ensure you are with me on this, each of these men, who were in charge of our lives. had personally been bitten when they were either trying to catch or release rattlesnakes.  I did not take this as a good omen, but by then there was no turning back.

Bite off Some I.Q.

Despite what we have all seen in John Wayne movies, Bubba and Cooter were proof that getting bit by a rattler does not kill you.  It may lower your I.Q. by about 50 points, but it does not kill you, IF you get an antivenom shot in time.  Thankfully, every second person in Sweetwater carries one and knows how to use it.

As Bubba and Cooter prepared to officially began to hunt dem rattlers, and risk going negative on their collective I.Q.’s, they put gasoline in big bottles, pumped them up and sprayed the mist under huge rocks, and into major league crevasses.  (Of course they were smoking cigarettes while spraying gas mist. Have you not been paying attention?)

If they had chosen the right crevasse — and these were highly trained professionals who had been bitten many times — in just a few minutes, out would slither a couple of “drunk” rattlesnake. Even to my untrained eye, it was obvious they should not have been driving. Or slithering. They were the slowest slitherers you ever saw.

Seeing them energized Bubba and Cooter.  They told all the tourists, including this blog, to get our cameras ready, then proceeded to catch rattlesnakes with tongs and drop them into a gunny sack.

As if this was not bad enough, then Bubba and Cooter took turns pinning rattlesnakes down with their special Snake Pinning Stick before grabbing them just behind their snaky heads.

This sent a primordial shiver down my spine.

Because, even though the rattlers were drunk, they were by my estimation at least 27 feet long and big around as your leg.  The last thing any human in the world should want to do was grab one with his bare hand.

But this was necessary so Bubba and Cooter could pretend to throw one of the rattlesnakes right at you

When they pretended to do that to this blog — a highly trained international journalist who at that exact moment was taking photos with his expensive Nikon 35mm camera — we levitated, dropped our expensive camera gear, turned around in mid-air, and simply disappeared, leaving only the curly animated lines you normally see in a Roadrunner cartoon.

Once we started breathing again, we realized two things: they really did not throw a snake at us; and this was the absolute highlight of their entire in-bred lives.  They had made you poop right in your pants, and pay them for the privilege.

The Snake Arena

When we got back to the Official Sweetwater Rattlesnake Arena, which is exactly like the Astr0dome, except it’s somewhat smaller and made out of barn tin, Bubba and Cooter and all their cousins weighed their gunny sacks and then dumped their snakes into a glassed off area, as below.

 

rattlesnake catching

 

By this point, the rattlers had long since worked off their gas intoxication. They were now way pissed off, slithering around at 90mph and striking at anything in the general area. They quickly slithered into the corner, and sort of coagulated into a GIANT POISONOUS WAD OF HATE AND DEATH.

(It is appropriate at this point in our story to let out a Primordial scream!)

Alas, the show had not even begun.

**Two-man teams of grown men then climbed into the snake pits to bag as many rattlers as possible in 60 seconds.  One guy would hold the gunny sack as his partner attempted to use a stick or his boot to push the insanely angry snakes into the bag.  The catcher also had to warn his partner if a rattlesnake was sneaking around behind in an effort to sink its fangs right into his butt.

As I recall, the announcer explained over the P.A. that, in yesterday’s competition, one of Bubba and Cooter’s cousins “had got hisownself bit” and was recovering in the hospital, even though “his leg was swole up like a stump.”  Because he’d been bitten so many times over the years, the doctor advised that if he ever got snakebit again, he’d be off to the Great Rattlesnake Hunt in the Sky.

Not KFC

Final snake note.

Despite rigorous laws about “truth in advertising”, the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce flagrantly touted rattlesnake meat as “tasting like chicken.”  They even described snake meat as ***”Chicken of the Crevasse”.

They were lying.

Because as the time, we were freelancing and planned to claim this trip as a tax-deduction, we felt obliged to actually taste deep-dried rattlesnake.  This blog can now assure you that rattlesnake does not in any way, shape or form taste like chicken. 

What it tastes like is chicken-fried mean.

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* Yes, I was out of my mind.

** If you thought Bubba and Cooter were competing, you would be wrong. Even THEY thought this was insane

*** According to Champ Kind from Anchorman 2

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If you really, really want to be creeped out, click on this Rattlesnake Roundup video.  It would not be a good idea to do that right before going to bed.

 

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