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Friday, June 13, 2008

Morris Rattlesnake Roundup This Weekend

Annual Morris snake hunt nears

By CHERYL R. CLARKE - Sun-Gazette Correspondent

MORRIS — One of two major fundraisers for the fire department here, the annual Rattlesnake Roundup will be held this weekend, June 14 & 15, 2008, and Amos Osborn, 69, one of the originators of the event, is still getting in the pit, even after being bitten twice, once in 2003 and once in 2006.

But his presence in the pit is strictly in the supervisory capacity: He no longer handles the snakes, he said.

First held some 53 years ago as a way to control the abundant rattlesnake population here, the snakes were killed then, but now are released back into the wild.

The number of snakes caught last year was 10, compared to 400 in years past, Osborn said.

With only 30 hunters registering last year, down from over 300 in years past, Osborn said he expects about the same number this year.

“Twin Streams campground is booked full,” he said.

Registration for the hunt starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Registration costs $2 but hunters must have a $25 permit from state Fish and Game Department, he added.

“Last year they raised it to $25 from $5 and for non residents it went up to $50,” he said.

Osborn said after he nearly lost a kidney in 2006 he made the decision to scale back his duties in the pit.

“I supervise the measuring, determining the sex and tagging them,” he said.

Snakes are put in a long plastic tube that keeps them from striking during the process, Osborn said.

Even with the high cost of fuel a factor in most people’s summer plans, Osborn said he still expects the annual event will clear around $10,000 for the fire department.

“If they don’t add any more regulations to us we will keep going,” he added.

He was referring to new regulations added that make it harder and more dangerous to hunt snakes.

“Two years ago they said each hunter can only catch one snake and it has to be 42 inches or longer and males only,” he said.

This means the hunter must determine the sex of the snake in the field, a dangerous process.

“At the tail end of a male the scales are a darker black color, and the hunter has to count them; if there are 21 or more it is a male and can be brought in,” he said.

All the extra handling makes the hunt even more dangerous than in years past, he said.

“When you find a snake out in the wild they are wild and usually are hostile to being trapped,” he said.

In the five plus decades the hunt has been held, only two people have been bitten in the woods and that was at least 20 years ago, he said.

Osborn knows how painful a snake bite can be, and how deadly.

In 2003 when he was bitten on his finger he had a bad reaction to the anti venom used on him and was gravely ill.

“But that wasn’t near as bad as the one in 2006, when I almost lost a kidney, maybe I got a larger dose of venom when I was bit just above the thumb,” he said.

Included in the activities this weekend will be a one pitch softball tournament, chicken barbecue, concession stands and flea markets.

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