The return of spring, usually in March, is rattlesnake roundup time in Texas. To someone that’s never attended a rattlesnake roundup the whole thing may seem pretty bizarre while glancing at vendor tables displaying rattlesnake paraphernalia from rattlers, snake heads, fangs, skins, and taxidermy bodies.
Snake meat is the featured food, cooked up and served to the paying palate, but the main feature and the reason for the roundup is to educate people about snakes. To do this there is a snake show, but to attend the snake show there’s usually a charge in addition to the entrance fee, which enables one to browse vendor booths and buy snake meat.
Professional snake handlers or someone who knows what they are doing stands behind a plastic shield, a rattlesnake pit, to contain the snakes and keep the audience safe. In this lair of snakes, the snake handler isn’t guaranteed to walk away bite free. Surrounded by hissing, slithering snakes that aren’t too happy about bright lights and spectator eyes the handler prods them with a pole that has a hook on the end to make them move. For some reason, snakes tend to pile up in one place, and the hook makes it easy to slip underneath a snake and pick it up without hurting it if they won’t move.
During a show a handler will take a snake and pick it up behind the head, force its mouth open and use the pole as a backdrop behind the fangs to explain what’s involved in a bite. They will make snakes mad enough to strike the boots they are wearing to show how high a snake is capable of jumping, emphasizing the need of wearing boots if one is going to be in an area where they might encounter a rattlesnake. Handlers will even incapacitate a rattler and hold it over the pit for onlookers to touch. All sizes of rattlesnakes are found in the pit, and can serve the handler further in teaching the general public about the venomous crawlers. Bold handlers have been known to take things a step up by lying in a zipped sleeping bag filled with snakes. Handlers haven’t always come out unscathed from this dangerous feat. They have been bitten on the head, hands, and other parts of the body.
There wouldn’t be a rattlesnake roundup if it weren’t for the money and the competition of the snake catchers. Those dedicated thrill seekers who catch rattlesnakes, sell them by weight, and hope to claim fame and bragging rights for catching the largest one of the show.
To catch snakes in Texas a non-game collectors permit is required. It is wise for an inexperienced snake catcher to tag along with a seasoned catcher before going it alone. Since the outcome can have deadly results without some know how. The eight rattlesnake species, which reside under Texas skies aren’t all up for grabs. The Canebrake or Timber rattlesnake is protected under state law. To mention a few other rattlesnakes in Texas surroundings, be on the lookout for Mojave, Prairie, and Western Diamond Backs.