Sack A Rattlesnake, Win A Prize

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This week, the World Health Organization launched a snake anti-venom website aimed at reducing annual snake bite casualties. The site may be getting some traffic out of Texas Saturday, when the National Rattlesnake Sacking Competition kicks off in the town of Taylor. Host Scott Simon speaks to Shawn Jonas about the championship, where professional and amateur sacking teams compete in pairs of two to catch, trap and bag highly venomous rattlesnakes.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, the World Health Organization launched a snake anti-venom website aimed at reducing annual snake bite casualties. The site might be getting some traffic out of Texas today. The National Rattlesnake Sacking Competition kicks off in the town of Taylor, Texas. Shawn Jonas is the president of the Taylor Junior Chamber of Commerce, the organization that hosts the event. He joins us from Taylor.

Thanks for being with us, Mr. Jonas.

Mr. SHAWN JONAS (Taylor Junior Chamber of Commerce): No problem. How are y'all doing today?

SIMON: Well, we're doing just fine, but we're probably not going to be picking up rattlesnakes and putting them in a sack. How do you do it?

Mr. JONAS: The point of the competition is you - it's a two-man team, the pinner and a bag man. You dump 10 snakes out of a burlap bag, take you a little time, sort them out. You pin the snake's head with a pinner, which is usually a golf club converted with a hook on the end of it. The clock starts once you pin the first snake's head. And the clock stops once you throw the tenth snake into the bag.

SIMON: How hard is it to pin a snake, as you call it, to capture its little head in one of those contraptions?

Mr. JONAS: It's harder than what a person would think. You've got to have a little bit of finesse to it, because you...

SIMON: Oh, I guarantee you - I don't think many of our listeners think it's easy.

Mr. JONAS: You're not allowed to harm the snake in any way. If you harm the snake, you get a penalty. And if you hurt it severely enough, you get disqualified.

SIMON: So what do you do? Grab it by its little, green throat or something?

Mr. JONAS: You put your index finger on top of its head, your thumb and your middle finger around the back of its neck.

SIMON: On the actual snake?

Mr. JONAS: Yes.

SIMON: Ooh, my word.

Mr. JONAS: Because you have to immobilize its head before you throw it into the bag.

SIMON: Are they poisonous?

Mr. JONAS: Yes, sir.

SIMON: Have you ever been bitten, Mr. Jonas?

Mr. JONAS: Yes, sir. I took a bite in 1999. It's pretty painful. Right away, it kind of feels like somebody's taken a lit cigarette and they're holding it to you, and you can't get it off.

SIMON: We've all seen the cowboy movies where they make the little incision and suck out the venom. Is that what happens?

Mr. JONAS: We have an extractor kit, and we use that to try to draw the venom back out.

SIMON: So are all the contestants from Texas - or maybe Oklahoma?

Mr. JONAS: Most of them are from around Texas. We've had a few out of Oklahoma and stuff like that.

SIMON: Any city kids, like me?

Mr. JONAS: There's been a few. I think the last one that showed up got bit on about his third snake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah. So when the competition is over, what do you do with all these burlap sacks filled with snakes?

Mr. JONAS: There's actually a guy here that shows up that buys every snake that comes in the show. They're used for their skin, the meat. There's not a whole lot on the rattlesnake that's not used.

SIMON: So you've eaten rattlesnakes after you bag them?

Mr. JONAS: Oh, yes, sir.

SIMON: I've had rattlesnake too, come to think of it. But I didn't have to pin my own.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Mr. Jonas, nice talking to you.

Mr. JONAS: No problem. If anybody out there is listening and they're close, come on out. We're going to have a great weekend.

SIMON: Shawn Jonas, president of the Taylor JCs, thank you. Do I say good sacking to you, sir?

Mr. JONAS: I'll take that. Thank you, sir.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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