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REPORTER-NEWS (Abilene, Texas) 06 March 03 World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up expected to draw a crowd to Sweetwater (Thaddeus DeJesus)
Perpetuating the legend that everything is bigger in Texas, the tiny town of Sweetwater this weekend will play host to the biggest rattlesnake festival on the planet.
The 45th annual World’s Largest Rattlesnake Round-up, which kicks off today with a parade and beauty pageant, stretches over the weekend with a three-day reptile hunt beginning Friday, and culminates Sunday with the awarding of trophies and prizes to the hunters.
Although the ubiquitous rattlesnake takes center stage, the event offers something for everyone, from a daily carnival to nightly dances.
On Saturday, cooks will vie for top honors as they compete in making the best brisket, chili, chicken, pork ribs, chicken and, of course, rattlesnake. This year, camera crews will film the cook-off for a future episode of the Food Network’s All American Festivals.
Nearby, vendors will offer wares — including snake skins, rattlers and preserved rattlesnakes — at the flea market. Over the three-day festival, the Sweetwater Rifle and Pistol Club is sponsoring a gun, knife and coin show at the Nolan County Coliseum’s Annex.
Admission to the cook-off and flea market is free, while the club-sponsored show is $4 per person and free for accompanied children under 12.
Throughout the weekend, visitors can also opt to go on guided rattlesnake hunts and bus tours.
Gates to the Nolan County Coliseum complex will open 8 a.m. Friday. There, thousands of snakes will be penned. Handlers will demonstrate how to properly treat snakes, as well as compile information on the snakes’ weight, length and sexes for research being performed by the Texas Parks & Wildlife department on the impact of commercial rattlesnake round-ups.
Riley Sawyers, president of the Sweetwater Jaycees, event sponsor, said the draw to the annual event appeals to the more base instincts.
"Everyone’s got a fascination and fear of snakes, especially rattlesnakes," he said.
Over the years, the focus of the Sweetwater round-up has shifted from the macabre to the educational. The Jaycees hope to convey to visitors how to properly handle unexpected snake encounters, Sawyers said.
Experts will also demonstrate the proper method of milking snakes. The collected venom is used to make anti-venom medication.Over the three-day fest, the county’s population easily doubles in size as an estimated 30,000 visitors converge on the Coliseum grounds. The event was dreamed up by ranchers to help control the snake population, which threatened their livestock. Since its creation in 1958, the event has been sponsored by the Sweetwater Jaycees.
Some of the proceeds benefit organizations and charities, including the Boy Scouts, Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Special Olympics and the annual Thanksgiving Feast held in Sweetwater.
Over 44 years, the event has netted 249,724 pounds of snakes. The record haul, set in 1983, is more than 18,000 pounds.
Weather can be a factor in the amount of snakes caught. Overcast and cold weather during last year’s event had some hunters grumbling about the amount of snakes available. Because of cooler temperatures, the snakes were thought to be in hibernation.
The amount of snakes captured last year amounted to 3,005 pounds.
Sawyers said he expects the amount should equal or even surpass last year’s catch.
What: 2003 World’s Largest Rattlesnake Round-up
When: Friday to Sunday, March 6-9
Where: Nolan County Coliseum and Newman Park, 1699 Cypress St.
Cost: Adults $6 and students $4
Schedule of events
Admission and fees
Front gate — Adults, $6; students, $4.
Bus tours — Adults, $5; students, $3.
Hunter registration — Individual, $15; team (2), $25.
Guided hunts — $60 per person per day.
Tonight through Sunday — Carnival
Thursday, March 6
4:30 p.m. — Rattlesnake Review Parade (West Broadway down to East Broadway)
7 p.m. — Miss Snake Charmer Scholarship Pageant, City Auditorium (corner of 4th and Locust). Adults, $5; students, $3.
Friday, March 7
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Gates open
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Guided Hunt registration
7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Snake weigh-in
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Bus tours
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Snake handling shows
8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Cook Shack — fried rattlesnake meat
9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Sweetwater Gun, Knife & Coin Show
5:00 p.m. to 12 a.m. — Registration for Brisket & Chili Cook-off
8:00 p.m. to 12 a.m. — Rattlesnake Dance, featuring The Texas Latinos
Saturday, March 8
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Guided Hunt registration
7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Weigh-in of snakes
9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — Bus tours for spectators
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Snake handling shows
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Cook Shack — fried rattlesnake meat
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Brisket & Chili Cook-off
All Day — Girl Scout Salsa Challenge and Dessert Cook-off
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Rattlesnake Dance, featuring Tommy Alverson
Sunday, March 9
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Gates open to public
8 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Guided Hunt registration
7 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Weigh-in of snakes
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. —Bus tours for spectators
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Snake handling shows
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Cook Shack – fried rattlesnake meat
2 p.m. —Rattlesnake meat-eating contest
3 p.m. — Awarding of prizes
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Sweetwater Gun, Knife & Coin Show
REPORTER-NEWS (Abilene, Texas) 06 March 03 Myths about rattlesnakes abound; here's the truth (Jade Jackson Lloyd)
In the biblical Garden of Eden, Eve was far more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by the apple-toting serpent.
Several millennia later in Texas, lightning strike fatalities outnumber snakebite deaths three to one. With an annual average of one death by snakebite per year, snake experts say people should be more afraid of being killed in a car accident.
Yet, the average modern-day Eve or Evan still harbors what animal experts deem an unhealthy fear of snakes and other slitherers.
A combination of the reptiles’ mystique and the general public’s ignorance about them has enshrouded rattlers in a blanket of untruths. Here, several snake experts will try to debunk those myths.
Myth No. 1: Rattlesnakes purposefully, strategically hunt humans.
"Snakes never attack" humans, said Rod Dearth, executive director of San Angelo Nature Center and a past president of the West Texas Herpetological Society, a 60-member group that studies amphibians and reptiles.
"All snakes will steer clear of something as large and as scary-looking to them as a human being," he added. "Of course, if you corner a snake, or unknowingly step on it, it will react defensively."
Hikers fear not: the majority of snakebite victims intentionally disturb the rattlers, not vice versa, Dearth said.
"It’s usually some young guy, between the ages of 18 and 30, who has had too much to drink," Dearth said. "They decide they want to play with the snake and show how manly they are."
For those unlucky souls who unintentionally encounter rattlers, one snake studier said one of two things will happen.
"If you step on one, it will either bite you or it won’t," said Andy Price, nongame biologist for Texas Parks & Wildlife. "If it doesn’t bite you, you should move on as quickly as possible. If it does, you should seek immediate medical attention."
Myth No. 2: All victims of snakebites should seek antivenin, a concentrated immune serum made from certain animals.
While Dearth said antivenin should be taken in extreme cases, he added the serum could actually kill a snakebite victim quicker than the bite.
"Most the time, the human body will recover without the use of antivenin," Dearth said. "If you got to an emergency room and that’s the first thing they want to give you, go to another emergency room."
Whenever anyone is bitten, Dearth said all treatment should be left to professionals.
"The only field first aid anybody needs to treat a snakebite is the telephone," he added. "That’s to call the ambulance. There should never be any cutting or sucking, or giving of alcoholic beverages. No aspirins and absolutely, positively no tourniquets."
Myth No. 3: Rattlesnakes add one rattle for every year of its life.
Dearth said it is impossible to determine a rattlesnake’s age by counting the segments in its rattle. He said a rattlesnake gets a new "button" in its rattle each time it sheds its skin, a process that can occur several times a year.
"We have a rattlesnake that I captured as a baby in 1997," he said. "It has 12 segments in its rattle. Obviously, it is not 12 years old."
Myth No. 4: If you are bitten by a venomous snake, you are going to die.
Dearth said while a snakebite will hurt, swell and maybe turn black, it does not guarantee certain death.
"It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be sick or have some pain or even lose a digit, but you’re not going to die," he said.
The Lone Star State, second only to Arizona in the number of indigenous rattlesnake species, is home to 10 species of rattlers. As a result, Dearth said Texas likely has more venomous bites per capita than any other state.
Three of those — Prairie, Western Diamondback and Western Massasauga rattlesnakes — roam throughout the Big Country, mostly anywhere there is sufficient food and cover.
While all rattlesnakes are venomous, the venom’s toxicity levels vary from species to species. Dearth said any venomous snake can produce a deadly bite, if the circumstances are right.
Everything from the time of the rattler’s last meal to its size to the victim’s health determines how much venom it releases and how dangerous the bite may be.
Ten kinds of rattlesnakes are found in Texas. Most commonly found in and around the Big Country is the Western diamondback, the most common and widespread venomous snake in the state.
Rattlesnakes usually "rattle" before striking, although when surprised, they may strike before rattling.
Texas is home to around 115 species and subspecies of snakes. The 15 venomous snakes in Texas make up less than 15 percent of the total number of snakes in the state.
Snakes do not lie in wait for humans; nor do they pursue or hunt humans. Bites are usually a result of the snake being surprised or cornered, or from someone handling snakes.
Your best defense if you encounter a snake: Freeze until you know where the snake is. Allow the snake to retreat. If you must move, back slowly and carefully away from the snake.
Source: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
REPORTER-NEWS (Abilene, Texas) 06 March 03 Cooking the 'other white meat' takes culinary imagination (Jason Sheehan)
Rattlesnake will prove to be the "other white meat" this weekend at the Rattlesnake Roundup’s annual cook-off.
Hundreds of chefs will gather in Sweetwater to show their skills and go for the coveted crown of the World Champion Rattlesnake Meat Cooker.
The reptilian recipes will include everything from the traditional deep-fried rattlesnake to rattlesnake étouffee.
In addition to the beef, chicken, pork and chili categories, in order for contestants to be eligible for the Sweetwater Jaycee Cook-Off grand champion, they must compete in the snake portion of the cook-off.
Although he won last year’s crown, Tod Ryden is not a big fan of snake meat.
"I just don’t really care for it (rattlesnake)," Ryden said. "You have to be really hungry to eat it. We do it because we needed to be eligible for the overall."
Ryden said he will stick with his award-winning concoction of snake pitas. Ryden filets the meat and then combines bell peppers, onions and seasoning into pita pockets for a tasty sandwich.
Robert Bredemeyer believes the key to winning is to try different things.
"I try to change it up," said Bredemeyer, who has entered rattlesnake tamales and fried coconut rattlesnake. "If you don’t (change) people will copy you. People say, ‘what wins?’’’
In addition to providing some interesting meals, rattlesnake meat is very good for you.
"As far as nutritional value, it’s probably 95 percent lean," said Jeff Blank, owner of Hudson’s on the Bend Restaurant in Austin.
Kerry Clay, another veteran snake smoker, said rattlesnakes provide some nutrition as well as a scrumptious snack.
"As far as the taste, there’s nothing wrong with it at all," Clay said. "To me, it tastes just like chicken and frog legs."
1 large rattlesnake
1 qt. water
4 Tbsp. salt
1 cup flour
1/8 tsp. paprika
Salt & Pepper to taste
Soak rattlesnake carcass for 2 hours in salt water. Rinse and dry meat well. Cut meat into chunks to fry. Marinate meat for six to seven hours. Coat each piece with mixture of flour, paprika, pepper, tarragon and thyme. Fry chunks of prepared rattler in olive oil until golden brown.
1 rattlesnake, med. to large (Diamondback or other large species)
1 tbsp. margarine
1 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup half-and-half or milk
1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup capers
Skin snake and dress. Wash in cold water. Cut into 3-inch sections and place in large baking dish. Melt margarine. Stir in flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk and stir constantly until thickened and smooth. Pour over meat and add mushrooms, basil, pepper, rosemary and lemon juice. Cover tightly. Bake in 300 degree oven for one hour or until done. Garnish with capers.
1 large rattlesnake, freshly skinned, and cleaned
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut snake into 4-6 inch sections. marinate snake in barbecue sauce several hours. Wrap sections in tinfoil and barbecue over charcoal for 45 minutes. To keep meat from drying out, baste with barbecue sauce every 10 minutes.