By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten rattlesnake.
It’s not so much the taste. Deep-fried rattlesnake is just about as tough to bite into as it is to imagine: if you are able to get through the bony backstrap [yes, rattlesnakes have bones], you’ll find the meat tastes like a bland type of chicken.
It was the experience of swallowing serpent that-added to the many other occurrences-made Friday’s Sweetwater Rattlesnake Round-Up Media Day a striking good time.
Meet Chris Soles, a member of the Sweetwater Jaycees. If you don’t think rattlesnake hunting’s a sport, don’t tell this Sweet-water native. He and his buddy, Jaycees president Scott Cagle-who resembles Bonanza’s Hoss-have been bagging rattlers since they were 10.
“My dad tells me I’m crazy,” he says, smiling. “But I’m still afraid of snakes; I know what they can do. Other round-ups will have guys get in sleeping bags with snakes-that’s stupid. We try to be more safety oriented.”
I believed him until I met Rick Wilkinson, a 53-year-old veteran snake handler. During his demonstration, Rick walked all around two four-foot fe-males-“Just like humans, they’re the meanest,” he cracks-avoiding their venomous strikes. At one point, one of the snakes strikes from a table and clings onto his button-up shirt, hanging like a necktie. “Those don’t count as snake bites,” he quips.
Around the corner, seven contestants in the “Miss Snake Charmer” competition are chopping off snake heads and skinning them. Not exactly what I had in mind for a talent show. One short Jaycee named Terry leans over to me. “I’ve skinned six snakes in 90 seconds,” he brags.
Finally, the much-anticipated rattlesnake hunt. This involves pumping gasoline through copper tubing into the back of a snake den and flushing them out and waiting for them to come out. And waiting. Twenty minutes pass, and one snake slithers out. A success!
I returned home a fearless man. I just hope that Jaycee was joking when he said he dipped my rattlesnake meat in venom.