With summer on the horizon, many people are enjoying the heat by exploring Oklahoma’s scenic outdoors. This was exactly what Barry Lester was doing on April 29th. Lester and his wife went hiking to celebrate his 57th birthday when the couple ran across a timber rattlesnake. He was bit on both hands by the poisonous snake. Lester had picked up many snakes over the years without being bit, but this time he was not so lucky. He passed away on the way to the hospital.
Why would anyone try to handle these dangerous creatures? I decided to speak to Junior, Caleb Allen, an avid rattlesnake hunter. For Allen, snake hunting was bred into him at an early age, and it has become a part of his life.
“My grandpa brought me into it… he took me when I was six years old and ever since then I’ve gone to 4 of the 5 hunts (Apache, Waurika, Okeene, and Mangum) in Oklahoma each year,” says Allen. “I’m one of the guides for the hunt in Apache, so I actually take people out and show them what to do.”
As Allen alluded to, Oklahoma has 5 rattlesnake roundups a year. Allen describes the hunts “like the Tulsa State Fair, but smaller, and with a lot more snakes.”
“A lot of the hunts are held in small dying towns in Oklahoma, and this is how they get a lot of their income for the year,” says Allen. “They make a whole huge event out of it; it’s like a big carnival.”
Allen says that he has never been frightened of snakes and bugs and creepy creatures, but he’s had some close encounters that do get his heart pumping.
“I’ve been bit on the boot hundreds of times,which is scary,” says Allen. “You have one of the deadliest snakes in the world that close, and if the bite would’ve landed a few inches higher on the leg, you’d get bit.”
Some hunters risk their lives for the money that snake hunting can bring. Some years rattlesnake meat can sell for up to $17 a pound. Others, like Allen, simply do it for the thrill of the hunt and will release the snakes that they catch back into the wild. The main purpose of hunting rattlesnakes however is farmers and ranchers don’t want these pests on their property.
Allen warns anyone who is not a professional against going out and trying to catch rattlesnakes.
“If anyone were to come upon a rattlesnake, you don’t want to freak out… don’t jump and run… that’s how you get bit,” says Allen. “You want to stand your ground, make slow movements, find out where the snake is first, and then slowly back yourself out of the situation.”
If Allen were to come across a snake on a hunt he would grab it 5-6 inches below the head with his snake tongs, put the snake in a bucket or a sack, and take it back into town after the hunt is over.
“You come into town and then you have like a snake show and tell,” says Allen. “You get the longest snake measured, the shortest snake measured. People trade rattlesnakes… it’s a lot of social activity… you just have fun with it.”
Allen is almost always the youngest hunter at these events, but he enjoys being able to carry on a legacy of a dying breed.
“There’s one other kid that actually when I started going, he had just been born and he’s the only one younger than me,” says Allen. “It’s not necessarily an activity that a lot of people would like to partake in…its dying because it’s not a popular activity.”
Allen plans on sharing his love of snake hunting with his future kids one day.
Allen states confidently, “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life, it’s one of my favorite things in the world to do.”