Being a rattlesnake wrangler

By: Robert Lee - Contributing Columnist

I have written about snakes in the past and it looks like I need to do it again, only because of a video that was on the news in the past week.

I don’t have a problem with snakes. They don’t bother me as much as they do other people. With some people, the fear is truly unbelievable. The video of which I write about is of a lady going outside with her dog at night; you know, walking the dog before bedtime. Only thing is, this walk did not last long — not long at all. The lady saw what she thought was her dog’s chew toy. It was not. It was a baby rattlesnake. I have laughed every time I thought of that video, only because of the “catch and release” scene that lasted all of a micro-second. It was funny how, in the darkness, the lady knew this is not a toy. I guess a live snake and plastic one do feel different, even if it is dark. To see her run and hop trying to get away from the snake was unbelievable. I also know that the lady saw no humor in the video at all.

God’s serpents were never meant to be a pet, like a dog. Snakes just don’t fetch. They’re not furry and fun to play with. Would you really want a snake to lick your face like you did when you were a child with your puppy? Would you really want the snake to sleep with you? Some people do. I just don’t think that a snake would follow you around like your puppy. Maybe if you had a pocket full of baby mice he might. It could happen. Like on the day when pigs are supposed to fly. I’ve never seen that spectacle either, but again, I do think anything is possible given enough faith.

I have seen this blind faith — with snake handlers. I will not call the name of the church or it’s denomination. Nor will I talk about it’s location . Because some of the people that live in them hills of Tennessee, they might not want to be talked about. So I will not talk about them people in Tennessee, that way you won’t know where they’re from.

To make this clear, I did not go to that church on a regular basis, even though it was uncle Chester Bligh who ran that church. He also ran some of the best stump liquor.

I have to say this, it was a show to see when uncle Chester was up at the head of the church. Here he was with rattlesnakes in both hands just a singing. The show, when it was going to happen, always took place at the end of the sermon — when some got bit.

Now to a little-known trick about those snakes: ice. You see, even though uncle Chester had a lot of faith, he was not a fool. Uncle Chester knew about nature. In the late fall and early winter, if a rattler gets cold, he don’t move real fast.

Made sense. If you put them on ice they would be more manageable. By noon them rattlesnakes got warm and pissed off. A rattlesnake ain’t a puppy. They do not want to be cuddled.

There are legitimate reasons why you should not play with venomous snakes. The obvious reason that comes to mind is — they bite. It just makes sense for most of us, but there are others who just make you think: “What can you be thinking?”

Plain and simple, just being stupid about what you are doing comes to mind. The first time I came close to being popped in the leg by a rattler, I was just a bit quicker than Mr. No Shoulders. I decided in all of my wisdom that I wanted to cure the skin out and make a hat band out of it.

Such a fool I was. I did take the time to cut its head off. Now I think, no danger now. I decided to put a tack in the tail to hold the snake in place. I proceeded to drive the tack in — and the rattler came alive. I swear on my life that snake popped me in my left forearm and I screamed like a little girl.

When I looked at my arm all I could see was this bloody spot. At that moment I was coming apart because I thought the ratter had hit the vain in my arm. Then I looked at the snake. He ain’t got no head. I did feel rather foolish .

There are more people bitten by dead snakes then are bitten by live ones. About two weeks later on the Discovery channel I saw a show about rattlesnakes. It seems they have a reflex known as the revenge reflex. It has something to do with their nervous system and it is programmed to strike.

A couple of years later, I had a bad day at work and when I got home I just wanted to sit in the yard and relax. I got me a glass of tea and sat down on my lawn chair. I closed my eyes for a moment. I kept my eyes closed and was reaching for my tea, I could not find it, so I opened them. To my surprise about 6 feet away was a 5-foot rattler. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my revolver that was loaded with rat shot.

I started thinking about the what-ifs. What if the snake had been closer when I reached for the tea. These thoughts remain in my mind.

This coming Aug. 7, I have an anniversary. Most people have wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of when they took a trip. Mine is when I got bit by a rattlesnake six years ago.

I’m a card carrying member of the prestigious club “Dumb as a Box of Rocks.” One Saturday afternoon, I was walking in my pasture. I saw a little cedar tree that had a perfect shape. I went to get a shovel.

When I got back to the tree , I looked down. I saw the middle of a rattlesnake that was as big around as my arm. My first reaction was to look away, thinking the head was up the hill. To my surprise, I saw the tail. Oh my God, I know where the head is. I looked down at my right leg — about 12 inches away there was the head.

I was looking down as the rattler was looking up with his beady little left eye. Now I’m thinking, “He’s been looking at you longer then you have been looking at him.” ‘Bout that time he popped me in my right leg. I squealed like a 3-year-old and took off running. Funny thing about it, the rattle snake was coming with me. Seems as though the rattler’s fangs were stuck in me. I got a dry bite.

I was kicking and screaming at the same time. I had forgot all about the pistol that was in my pocket. I had forgot about everything that I knew to do. Remember the dumb as a box of rocks part? I’m ashamed to say this, but as I was skinning the rattlesnake, I stuck myself on one of the fangs. I could go further with these details, but it don’t matter. I was sick for over a month, just did not feel quite right.

Being a rattlesnake wrangler is not a smart hobby to be involved with. If you don’t believe this story, come to the shop I would love to show you proof . Seeing is believing. They are not cuddly.

Robert Lee

Contributing Columnist