Friday, July 14, 2006

Rattlesnake Roundups

Rattlesnake roundups take place from January through July in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Georgia. Roundups started in the mid-1930's as an attempt to rid areas of rattlesnakes, but they have evolved into commercial events. The rattler is a deadly poisonous snake that can be found throughout North America, but nowhere is it more abundant than in the deserts and plains of the American West. In the small west Texas town of Sweetwater, townsfolk have turned the potentially deadly pest into an annual event that attracts more than 30,000 visitors.

The roundup was started back in 1958 by a group of ranchers who were just having a problem with the rattlesnake population biting their animals and really causing a lot of havoc with their livestock.

Attend the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup and you can watch a snake-handling demonstration, go out into the countryside on your own snake roundup, and even eat rattlesnake meat cooked in everything from barbecue to Texas chili.

"We have deep-fried rattlesnake meat which you cook kind of like you would a fish. We also have a very large cook-off which includes rattlesnake meat as one of the meat options cooked that we have over 150 teams come in and do each year."

Tom Wideman, a former chairman of the World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup held every March in the West Texas town of Sweetwater, participated in the first Roundup in 1958 as a ticket-taker, and then became an avid hunter, contributing his share of the 125 tons of rattlesnakes turned in at the Sweetwater Jaycees event over the years.

Wideman developed a great interest in and healthy respect for the species, leading media tours, appearing on National Geographic Television, and serving as a model for Gokey Boots. His own boots, he estimates, have been struck no less than three hundred times by rattlesnakes.

"If you're going to adopt rattlesnake hunting as a hobby," he writes, "the two most important hunting accessories you'll need are a cool head and a deep respect for the critters.”

"If you see a rattlesnake or hear one 'rattle' a warning," he advises, "freeze in your tracks. I know that's a difficult assignment when your natural inclination is to run, but you should remain absolutely motionless until you determine the rattlesnake's location. Chances are that if you hear a snake rattle and don't move, the snake will retreat first."

Wideman said his wife, June, made her own deal with rattlesnakes years ago. "She won't hunt them," he says, "if they won't hunt her." The fascination with rattlesnakes draws thousands of visitors to Sweetwater each spring for the Roundup, where they can sample fried rattlesnake and watch snake handlers demonstrate their techniques. The event helps control the rattlesnake population on nearby ranches and educates the public about snakes and their environment. Proceeds benefit a variety of community charities.

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