“My heart was pumping out of my chest,” he said.
When he tried to catch the seven-footer, it darted into the wheel well of his truck, making for the engine compartment.
“I just pulled it out by the tail,” he said.
Realizing he didn’t have a bag in which to stow it, Martinez jumped into the truck with the snake coiled around one arm.
“I drove with him wrapped around my arm. I started honking, calling Tom, ‘Hey I got it,’ ” he recalled, laughing.
Martinez, Molina and two other vets, Steve Verbovszky and Joshua Acevedo helped Rahill search for pythons a few weeks ago in a large, undeveloped tract called the Frog Pond — a former farm near Homestead General Aviation Airport owned by the South Florida Water Management District. The group was accompanied by Jeff Fobb, a captain with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Venom One snakebite response team. Fobb was off duty that day — invited because of his python wrangling skills.
After four hours of trekking from tangles of poisonwood and willow to dry prairies pocked with limestone solution holes and finally through an abandoned mango grove, the men spotted 10 snakes — seven black racers, one garter snake and two unidentified, but no pythons.
Despite being hot, sweaty and snake-less, Acevedo, a 27-year-old Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he enjoyed the experience.
“I never messed with snakes in my life, but I’m getting into hunting,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid of them. I don’t fear them.
“Ever since I got back from Iraq, I get into long walks being by myself. With people in big groups, I get agitated. I feel uncomfortable. But I’m out here in a nonviolent, nonaggressive environment.”
Rahill jokes that as he gets “older and fatter,” he’d like to see the Swamp Apes become a permanent, nonprofit, veteran-run organization with some source of funding to keep it going.
Said Rahill: “This, to me, is important to the interest and perpetuation of the Everglades.”