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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Allie, what do you think about snakes?

ALLISON STEWART, host:

You know what? If I see them from far away, like if I'm out hiking or something, I'm kind of scared. But up close, when you see how beautiful they are and you touch them, then I think they're kind of nice.

MARTIN: That's exactly how I was. I was kind of not so into them, but then I had a boyfriend in college who got a pet python, and so I spent a lot of time with this little python. His name was Rorschach.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And then I wasn't so freaked out by them. But I don't know if I'm that comfortable that I'd want to do what we're about to talk about. In case you all out there don't have this on your calendars, the National Rattlesnake Sacking Championship is this weekend in Taylor, Texas. OK, this is how it goes down. Picture two men, I don't think any women compete in this, we'll get that clarified. But two men in a small enclosure, getting 10 live snakes into a sack as fast as possible. 30 seconds, three seconds a snake, is apparently a pretty good time. A minute, not so good. Now our next guest, his name is Jackie Bibby, this man knows how to sack a snake. He holds the world record actually, 17.1 seconds, and he's been sacking snakes since it became a sport 40 years ago. Mr. Bibby, on the line. How are you, sir?

Mr. JACKIE BIBBY (World Record Holder, Rattlesnake Sacking): I'm doing great this morning. How are you all doing?

STEWART: Just great.

MARTIN: You know, we're doing OK. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. BIBBY: It is my pleasure.

STEWART: First, we want a little explanation here about how this all happens. Rattlesnake sacking is apparently a two-man event. Tell us - describe that partnership between the guy who's pinning down the snakes and the guy who's holding the sack.

Mr. BIBBY: Well, the one who's picking the snakes up is called the pinner, and the one who's holding the sack is called the sacker.

MARTIN: There you go, that's logical.

Mr. BIBBY: Yes, and it's very important that you have an individual sacking for you that you trust and that knows what he's doing, because that individual has to block snakes, he has to talk to you about where the snakes are, he has to help you go through the process of getting through the snakes. Because this is a timed event, so, you know, you've got to be moving rapidly. And any time you move rapidly in conjunction with rattle snakes, you're going to get a lot of bites. And rattlesnake bites are nothing nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'll ask you about that in a minute. But - so this relationship has to be one of trust, right? You have to...

Mr. BIBBY: Yes, absolutely. Of course.

MARTIN: And do you have codes that you use when you're in the midst of doing this?

Mr. BIBBY: No, it's just talking. We know each other pretty well. The partner that I'm currently with, we've been sacking together for almost 20 years.

MARTIN: Wow. So let's talk about your record. Less than two seconds a snake. Seems like you would have to be able to predict what snakes are going to do, and how do you do this? You have some kind of sixth snake sensibility?

Mr. BIBBY: Well, I'd like to think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIBBY: I've been doing this for a long time. And part of it is the luck of the draw, just like any other timed event, if it were calf-roping or anything else where you - it's a timed event. The snakes that you draw, because you have no idea what 10 snakes will be in your bag, because you're handed the bag of snakes out of a pile that's been sacked up somewhere else. And then you have two minutes with four judges to arrange the snakes in the way that you want them to be in before you begin. At the end of two minutes, they shoot off a gun, you have to go. If you're ready, you raise your hand. When you drop your hand, they shoot off the gun. Because you have to immobilize the snake's head with a pinner prior to picking him up, if you don't do that properly, you get a five second penalty. If you are bitten by one of the snakes, you also get a five second penalty.

MARTIN: Wait, if you get bitten you get a penalty? Isn't being bitten punishment enough?

Mr. BIBBY: No, ma'am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Apparently not when you're sacking rattlesnakes.

MARTIN: So can you tell us what a winning strategy is? You say when the snakes are dumped out, you don't know if they're going to be, kind of, dormant snakes, or if they're going to be really hyperactive and go all over the place?

Mr. BIBBY: Exactly. You really want a group of snakes that is going to lay pretty good. When I set the world record back in 1991, I had a really great group of snakes. They came out of the bag, they lay pretty still. I got them situated very close together and I took off, and I went through them really smooth. It's really - you got to kind of have a rhythm, because to get a snake in a sack in less than two seconds, you're flying.

STEWART: So you shouldn't just assume that the snakes have a bad attitude right away.

Mr. BIBBY: Well, they're rattlesnakes, I mean, they're poisonous and they're dangerous.

MARTIN: How often have you been bit, Mr. Bibby?

Mr. BIBBY: Well I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've been bit eight times seriously enough to require hospitalization.

MARTIN: And do you stop when you've been bit? Do you just say, I'm out, or do you keep going?

Mr. BIBBY: One of the worst bites I ever received, I received on a Saturday, and I wouldn't go to the hospital until after I completed the contest on Sunday, because I was winning.

MARTIN: And, can you explain to us how this whole thing got started in the first place? Is this based on what you have to do in some real life scenario when you're working on a ranch or when you're herding cattle? How did this...

Mr. BIBBY: Rattlesnake roundups originated down here in Texas by ranchers and oilfield workers who wanted to thin out the snakes out in the areas where they worked. And so they started these roundups where hunters went out into the field and caught the rattlesnakes, brought them into the roundups and competed for prizes for who could bring in the most snakes. Back then, rattlesnakes were bringing 20 cents a pound, so they could come in, they could sell their snakes for 20 cents a pound. And they also competed for a prize for the longest snake, the snake with the most rattlers, and the most pounds brought in. And we paid cash prizes and trophies for all that.

MARTIN: Who was buying these snakes?

Mr. BIBBY: Well people who were dealing snakes, because snake meat is a product, just like pig meat is a product, and cow meat is a product, you know. People eat rattlesnakes and would also make a lot of products out of their skin. We tan the rattlesnake's skin and make leather products like billfolds, hat bands, boots and things like that.

MARTIN: Are you competing this year?

Mr. BIBBY: I'm not sure yet. I'm leaving today to head down to the contest. Last year, I only held the sack. I've been doing this - this is my 40th year if I do compete this year, and...

MARTIN: Oh, we lost Jackie Bibby it sounds like.

STEWART: Oh, that's unfortunate to lose a man like Jack Bibby mid rattlesnake story.

MARTIN: I think we're going to try to get him back, because I want to know where the snakes come from. I mean it's really interesting what he says - I had no idea there was an industry. I guess people eat snake meat.

STEWART: It makes sense. Sure. I'm just sort of curious when it goes from being something that was part of folklore and part of just the daily life of trying to manage your ranch, to becoming a sport that somebody decides to market.

MARTIN: Well, I guess also like rodeo.

STEWART: Yes.

MARTIN: Which at the beginning he pointed out, this is how rodeo evolved. And I think we might have him back. Mr. Bibby, are you there?

Mr. BIBBY: I am. I'm sorry, we got lost in the shuffle.

MARTIN: That's OK. Thanks, I'm glad we got you back. So I want to ask you about the snakes. Where do the snakes come from? You say they've been rounded up somewhere else. Who goes to get them, and where do they come from?

Mr. BIBBY: Well, the hunters. There are teams, groups of people. Some are individuals, some are small groups of people that hunt together virtually every year. And they come to the roundups. There's roundups all throughout Texas. We do several roundups. Taylor is this weekend, we'll do Brownwood, we'll do Freer, we'll do Big Spring. So there's a lot of roundups around. So the people in that area, several weeks before, prior to the roundup, they start harvesting snakes. They go out to the dens and they catch them and they hold them in boxes and barrels and stuff. And then they bring them in to the roundups and sell them and compete for the prizes.

MARTIN: For the competition. And then what happens when you're done with them, after the competition? These snakes go into the snake industry, they're sold?

Mr. BIBBY: They do, yes. We have people who buy the snakes to tan their skin and to sell their meat and to make products. There's a lot of stock in them. Right now, rattlesnakes are going for $3.50 a pound live weight, and they're just like any other animal that is used to consume its meat and to make product out of its hide.

MARTIN: And finally, when are you going to make up your mind about competing? Is something - is someone going to egg you on and say, come on, Jackie Bibby, I know you can't do it this year, and then you're going to say, fine, I'll do it?

Mr. BIBBY: Probably.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIBBY: It's an ego-driven sport, and I've been a thrill seeker throughout my life. So when the drilling gets to pumping, you know, I'm 57 years old, I'm bald-headed and I'm a little bit overweight. But you know what, when I get in that pit and that gun goes off, I forget all that and I go to work.

MARTIN: There you go. Hey, Jackie Bibby, the world record holder in the National Rattlesnake Sacking Competition. I guess you hold the world record all over the world, so not just in the national competition. Sir, thank you very much for joining us today. We appreciate it, and good luck if you do compete.

Mr. BIBBY: Thank you very much. It was a joy talking to you. Have a nice day.

MARTIN: You take care.

Mr. BIBBY: Bye bye.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: That's it for this hour of The Bryant Park Project. The show is directed by Jacob Ganz and edited by Tricia McKinney, our technical director is Manoli Weatherall.

MARTIN: Our staff includes Dan Pashman, Ian Chillag, Win Rosenfeld, Angela Ellis, Caitlin Kenney, it's her last day, she goes to Internet camp, Nathan Duele and Mark Garrison.

STEWART: Our interns are Laura Silver, William Hoffman and Elsa Butler.

Ms. CASSIE MCKINNEY: Butler. Butt-ler.

MARTIN: Laura Conaway added to our website and our blog.

STEWART: Our senior producer is Matt Martinez. Sharon Hoffman is our executive producer.

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin.

STEWART: And I'm Alison Stewart. We are online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. This is The Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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