Friday, April 6, 2012

Let's Talk Rattlesnakes!

John Luckie and toothy friend!
In 1974, The Fitzgerald, Georgia Chapter of the Jaycees decided to try their hand at hosting a Rattlesnake Round-Up.  This first event would kick off a successful run of over 20 round-ups that saw thousands of spectators, miles of snakes, and an enormous amount of money generated for the local economy during that time.  My Dad served as chairman of the round up and became the head snake man due to the fact that no one else volunteered.  (I wonder why??)

The local Jaycees used the event as a fund raising project for their organization and donated the money back to Fitzgerald by helping needy children or families.  The round-up brought them an estimated $10,000 per year.  Admission was charged for the event, ads were sold for a program, and vendors paid a fee to be there.  The Jaycees would purchase snakes brought in from snake hunters, then turn around and sell them to a pre-determined buyer.   The prices for snakes ranged from $1.50 per foot in 1978 to a high of $10.00 per foot in 1993.

The Round-up took place on the third Saturday in March each year.  It was actually a pretty big deal.  Newspapers from all over the Southeast would cover the festivities and I have just gone through countless pictures of my Dad from many years of articles that my Mom saved in a file.  According to the articles, the day would begin with a pancake breakfast hosted by the Masonic Temple.  Guided snake hunts were offered to those who wanted to participate and get a feel for the hunting action.  The gates would open at 9:00am and snakes would be brought in for sale throughout the day.  One of the very first years reported only 83 snakes bought by the Jaycees.  It quickly grew and later articles report numbers in the 600's.  Each snake would be measured by my Dad and placed in a holding pen.  Those snakes would then be milked for their venom by Mr. Ken Darnell of Bioactive Inc.  The venom collected is used for medical research and the production of anti-venom.

The Venom is collected by actually milking the snake's glands.  You can see in this picture that the snakes fangs are exposes over the side of this collecting glass.  Ken will then press on the snake's upper jaw to allow the venom to be expressed out of the fangs and into a ice chilled container under the glass.  If you are bitten by a poisonous snake and you are administered an anti-venom, then you can more than likely thank Ken Darnell and his years and years worth of work.  I would be willing to bet that he has milked a million snakes over the years and he still does it today from his home in Alabama.

Now let's take a look at this picture!

We have all seen Internet pictures with captions that read, "Man kills 9 foot Rattler weighing 27 pounds!"  I'm hear to tell you that those stories are just not true.  In my Dad's hands is one of the largest snakes ever brought into one of Fitzgerald's Rattlesnake Round-ups.  This bad boy probably measured in at 6.5 feet and weighed about 12 pounds.  That my friends is just about as big as they get.  Trust me!  My Dad has measured thousands of snakes and he will tell you that he can count on one hand the number of snakes that even made 7 feet.  None at 8 or 9 feet.  It just don't happen.  Take a look at this next picture.

What is he thinking?? A Pink hat??

This is a pretty good snake that you see here.  He will measure in at about 5 1/2 feet, but notice the marking on the pole that my Dad is using for measuring the snake.  It is only marked to 6 1/2 feet.  There is a reason for that! :)

People say that all good things must come to an end, and the Rattlesnake round-up did just that.  The same guys that started the round-up in 1974 were still running it 20 years later and frankly were getting a little older and tired of all the work that must go into putting on an event of this nature.  When Dad decided to hang it up, they couldn't find anyone who would take on "snake" duties, so that pretty much wound it up.  The Rattlesnake Round-up was converted to The Wild Chicken Festival and has been that way for the past 15 years.  The Jaycees were also starting to feel pressure from environmental groups about the round-up.  I found several articles that Mom had saved from papers all over depicting the round-up as a bad thing for the environment and all those poor little rattlesnakes.  Snake hunters countered that they were not hurting populations because they were finding more and more snakes each year.  I kind of like this quote from my Dad.  He sort of tells it like he sees it with this one.  "There are a lot of environmental groups that are against it, but they don't live in this part of the country.  Rattlesnakes are not thought too highly of.  They're not a cuddly species."  Well there you go!

I got to thinking about those environmental people and tried to see things from their point of view.  I am all about protecting the environment, but lets just face some facts.  If 10 different people walk up on 10 different rattlesnakes in the woods, odds are that 9 of those 10 snakes are killed on the spot. (My Dad would be the one to let his go)  At least some good was coming out of the round-up by milking the snakes for anti-venom, stimulating the local economy, and promoting trade.  How could that be wrong?  Today there is only one Round-up left in the state of Georgia. 

I will always have great memories of the Rattlesnake Round-up and the snake hunting that I was able to do with my Dad.  I have great respect for the Eastern Diamondback and consider it a beautiful but deadly creature.  I wish we still had the annual event so that I could relive childhood memories, but I know it could never be the same without this man running the show....

Thanks for the memories Daddy!  You are definitely one of a kind!!!  I sure hope you burned those suspenders!


Downeast Duck Hunter said...

That my good man is one rattling post... Awesome

Ashlee said...

I loved reading this. I think I went one time, but I remember telling my friends about my uncle johnny. I think at one point I thought rattlesnake rounding was his job! I didn't know it became the wild chicken festival.

Trey said...

Pretty easy to round up chickens around here Ash!

Steve said...

Those are BIG honkin' snakes? Around the CA foothills here they don't get that fat. I do have to ask though if you had Rattlesnake BBQ's at the Roundup? Again that is one of our "delicacies," along with mountain oysters.

Great story, Trey.

Steve from Exeter
Home of the CA Cowchip Throwing contest

CHERI said...

To Steve from Exeter...yes, there was rattlesnake cooking going on. Tasted like chicken!!! Trey, I should have found the picture of me holding a snake too (although not a rattler)! Those were fun days but I'm glad you're daddy is through picking up those things. He made my heart stop more than once!

The Gang said...

Great read!

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

I HATE snakes but forced myself to read this post, hahah. I loved all the old pictures and the stories. That's pretty neat family history you got there ;)