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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 20, 2003 at 11:50:47:
TIMES RECORD NEWS (Wichita Falls, Texas) 11 April 03 The rattle of money - Rattlesnake hunt to raise funds for fire department (Daniel Bartel)
Waurika, Oklahoma: The stillness of morning at the Waurika Volunteer Fire Department is broken with people stepping in between the flat plywood boxes.
The boxes rattle.
And a single rattle triggers a chain reaction of rattles. Soon, hundreds of diamondback rattlesnakes are making their presence known.
They're on hand for the Fang-tastic Rattlesnake Hunt beginning at noon today in Waurika.
Some of the firefighters were daring enough Thursday to reach into a box and hold a rattlesnake with bare hands.
But a single bite from one of the angry rattlers can be lethal if not treated, David England of the Waurika VFD, said.
"You want to be sure you know what you're doing," he said. "I respect them, so I don't play with them much."
But the thousands of rattlesnakes caught will be rendered harmless this weekend when they're butchered and served deep-fried for hungry patrons.
England is chairman of the 42nd annual rattlesnake hunt, which starts today. The festival is one of the oldest of its kind.
The department began the process of catching snakes March 15 when rattlesnake season began. This year has produced some good snakes, Waurika Assistant Fire Chief Johnny Berry said.
"All our snakes are four feet long or better," Berry said. "We've butchered around 400 pounds of snake before the hunt."
Some featured events at the snake hunt are not for the squeamish.
Professional handlers from James White and the Outlaw Handlers of Grandbury, Okla., will slip into sleeping bags filled with deadly snakes during the snake-sacking contest, Berry said.
The rattlesnake hunt is host to more than 10,000 patrons who hail from all over the nation. The event even draws people from countries in Europe and Asia, England said.
"We're not the biggest rattlesnake hunt, but we're the friendliest," he said.
About half of the people who attend the event are scared of rattlesnakes, Berry said. The day before the hunt, curiosity-seekers stuck their heads around the corner of the fire department to get a closer look but kept their distance.
It takes a while to warm up to the idea of such dangerous creatures, Berry said.
"Most people won't touch any rattlesnake meat at first, but they do by the end of the weekend," he said.
The event serves as the Waurika VFD's annual fund-raiser, and the proceeds go toward the purchase of new equipment for the VFD, he said.
Money raised from last year's event went to the purchase of an emergency rescue trailer that holds up to 10 firefighters.
"If it wasn't for the snake hunt, we wouldn't have any of this stuff," Berry said.
Some community members disapprove of the rattlesnake hunt because of the perception that butchering rattlesnakes is inhumane, Berry said.
"When they see the new equipment, they change their minds," he said. "Other little departments don't have the quality equipment that we have."