The number of people I have met in my life who understand why I protect snakes are vastly outnumbered by those who do not. What the misunderstanders do not realize is it is not just snakes but mostly all living creatures except fireants, roaches, and religious zealots. I really have to have a reason to kill any creature, and I have to have a reason to sit still and allow a creature to be harmed if I can prevent it. Save a dog or a cat and you are all the world’s hero. Save a rattlesnake and you better hope no one is carrying a gun. The irony is not lost on me that where I live is the home of the largest rattlesnake and the world’s most heavily armed populace this side of the Taliban.
I’ve seen remarkable acts of stupidity when it comes to human beings, firearms, and snakes. I rescued a pair of Canebrake Rattlesnake from someone who was going to turn them into belts. Actually, his girlfriend sold the snakes to me after he spent a weekend in Florida without her. It was a very interesting rescue because the snakes were inside two aquariums on a chest high workbench. The lids locked down and swung open, but didn’t come off. The really odd thing is both cages were totally without an attached bottom. I never did figure that one out but I had bigger problems. I had no idea how to get a rattlesnake or two out of a cage that was chest high to begin with. Finally, I had the jilted girlfriend to turn the thermostat down to sixty, and waited an hour or two before trying to catch the snakes. Once chilled, they were quite docile, and very slow. We took the snake out into the middle of nowhere, and dropped them off in the woods. It was an old field road, and as we were about to leave some guy just out riding around decided to see what we were doing. I would have never told anyone I was releasing rattlesnakes back into the wild, but one of my friends blurted it out and the geezer went wild. He grabbed his shotgun and started blasting away in the bushes trying to kill the snakes. We didn’t tell him he was shooting on the wrong side of the road.
I came close to going to jail over a rattlesnake rescue when I stopped to see what all the fuss was about one day. Generally speaking,when there are a group of people in the middle of the road they are trying to kill a five foot long rattlesnake. Most snakes won’t draw a crowd but a good sized rattlesnake will. The person in charge of this killing was trying to shoot the snake but his .45 had jammed on him. He was directing two guys with fishing poles to get the snake in the middle of the road so it wouldn’t escape. Yeah, Bubba, great move! Let’s fire away at a snake sitting on a hard flat surface. There were five or six people there, all jacked up on adrenaline, all of them happy and excited about being part of the circus, and a good time was being had by all. Well, unless you count the snake who was probably terrified to death at being surrounded by all these giant creatures trying to kill him.
At twenty years old I was five feet ten inches tall and weighed one hundred and ten pounds. There were bird dogs that weighed more than I did. Hell, there were first graders that weighed more than I did, but in South Georgia that doesn’t mean nearly as much as it does elsewhere. South Georgia is the only place I know where some grade school kids are old enough to drive…and vote. Anyway, at twenty I had also caught my share of rattlesnakes, and I had perfected the art of being able to tell when they were going to strike. I also drank heavily. I told one of the fishing pole guards to tap the pole in front of the snake and he did. When the snake turned to face the pole I reached over and grabbed the snake by the back of the neck.
Do not try this at home, or for that matter, anywhere else on earth.
Grabbing a snake barehanded was something I practiced on harmless snakes, then small venomous snakes, and finally got the big ones down pat. In this case I swept up the rattlesnake and one of the fishing pole guard screamed like a little girl and fled. The small crowd became much smaller and not even Moses parted the Red Sea as quickly as I parted those people. I walked up to the now paralyzed would be shooter. He tried to get the gun to work but had taken the action off and couldn’t get it back on. When he saw me advancing on him he pointed the gun and me and started trying to speak but the superstition in the truly ignorant runs true and deep. Had Satan himself arisen from the depths of Hell, this guy would not have been more terrified. He fumbled the gun and fled. I picked it up and stuck it into my waistband of my shorts and walked back to my car, got in, and with a five foot long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake in one hand, drove away. I let the snake go a few miles down the road in a heavily wooded spot, tossed the broken gun in behind him, and started drinking again.
If the census would have counted the number of terribly skinny long haired blue bandana wearing flip flop shod staggering drunk rattlesnake catchers in Sowega, well, it was fairly easy to report a stolen gun and give a pretty good description of who did it. I wasn’t well known in Calhoun County where the incident took place, but word got around and sure enough, one of the hometown deputies took a pass at me. He searched my car for the gun, which I denied ever seeing, but he was pretty firm about not letting me carry a gun, considering he was letting me drive drunk. The idea of me being armed frightened a lot of people. This was like someone in Afghanistan being arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. No, gun, no evidence, no arrest, and have a nice day officer!
I did stay out of Calhoun County for the better part of a decade after that, though.