If we’re serious about sending forth an army of gun-toting, beer-drinking, redneck snake-hunters to wade into the Everglades and eradicate the python hordes, we’re going to need more than a couple of piddling cash prizes.
We’ll need a queen.
Any officially sanctioned snake-killing frenzy worth a damn comes with a beauty contest. Apparently, girls in bathing attire, presumably of the snakeskin variety, are downright essential to a successful hunt.
So far, only about 400 contestants have signed up for South Florida’s “2013 Python Challenge,” which kicks off Saturday. Compare that to the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater (that’s the other Sweetwater) which brings in about 30,000 apparent lunatics every year to a dusty town in the middle of Texas with a population of not quite 11,000, where the only other tourist attraction is the National WASP Museum (for the women Army fliers, not the insects.) South Florida’s python shindig would need 18 million attendees just to keep pace, proportionately, with the festivities in Sweetwater.
What Sweetwater offers, along with the rattlesnake holocaust, is a Miss Snake Charmer, though the title is a bit of misnomer, given that pageant winners are required to decapitate a rattlesnake. I dug up this charming Associated Press quote from Laney Wallace, 16, Miss Snake Charmer circa 2011. “Tomorrow I get to skin snakes and chop their heads off. And I’m super excited about it.”
Go ahead with your snide Freudian analysis, but last year that giant posse of displaced Texas cowboys collected bounties on 1,700 pounds of rattlesnake redeemed at $5.50 a pound.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meanwhile, is offering $1,000 to the hunter who brings in the longest python, and $1,500 for the fellow who bring in the most pythons. Of course, certain rules apply. No roadkill. No pets. “DON’T dismember pythons into more than two pieces or they will not qualify for the ‘longest snake’ category.”
Also, pythons must be dispatched humanely. Miss Snake Charmer would be disappointed, but Florida rules won’t allow decapitations. Gunshots to the head, however, will be okay. Also, “captive bolts,” a slaughterhouse instrument familiar to moviegoers as the killer’s favored weapon in No Country for Old Men. A special FWC online python challenge training course suggests: “To target the correct area, draw an imaginary line from the rear left of the head to the right eye, and then draw another line from the rear right of the head to the left eye. While one person is holding the snake in place, position the captive bolt where those lines intersect. The bolt must enter at a slight angle, not flush to the skull.”
Imagine some conscientious serpent hunter, trying to figure the prescribed humane angle while wrestling a 15-foot Burmese python in two feet of black swamp water. No, this particular snake extravaganza will be all about gunplay. If the hunters can find something to shoot.
Apparently, the idea of a python hunt came out of the governor’s office, where it was conceived as a “market driven” solution to a fast-breeding exotic that’s caused considerable damage to native wading bird and small mammal populations. (Instead of, say, pushing Congress to ban the importation of exotic reptiles.)