LOMETA — On a recent Saturday morning, rattlesnake hunters from across Central Texas gathered to compare and contrast their quarry. These intrepid men and women brought in a ton of snakes — 2,178 pounds to be exact. Total head count was 1,603. The granddaddy, stretched tight as a clothesline from fangs to bottom rattler, measured 5 feet, 4 inches long.
This get-together has been celebrated 44 consecutive years, and is proudly labeled the Diamondback Jubilee. The local Lions Club runs the event with help from volunteers. Snake coordinator William Kelley said the Jubilee is Lometa’s opportunity to shake, rattle and roll, and raise money for worthy causes.
“It’s our largest fundraiser and economic booster. It brings our community together,” Kelley said. “It started as a one-day festival. Now it’s two days. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
Three-time champion Howard Ellett caught the most critters — 457 snakes weighing 631 pounds. He won a sparkling, silver belt buckle, big and bold enough to be the envy of any rodeo cowboy.
So how do you catch a rattlesnake?
“With this,” said 27-year snake hunting veteran Modina “Mo” Kunze, holding up an aluminum stick with a trigger handle on one end and sturdy claw for pinching and holding snakes at the other.
Kunze owns the Branding Iron Cafe in Lometa. Despite the available bounty of snake meat, she won’t be serving any rattlesnake dishes at her joint. She said health department red tape has put the kibosh on serving rattlesnake.
For several hours at the Jubilee, pickup trucks with mud grips and dual exhaust backed up to the unloading area before the snake pit. Folks wearing camouflage caps and sunglasses and steel toe boots with heavy stitching dragged solid wooden crates out of their trucks and dropped them on a platform scale.
Larry W. Fox, a snake buyer, wrote a $4,000 check to grand champion Ellett. The going rate this year is $6.50 per pound, down significantly from last year when snakes were worth about 12 bucks per pound.
Fox hauls the snakes to Oklahoma for processing and he doesn’t tell anybody on the road about his venomous cargo.
At the Jubilee, Fox was selling rattlesnake belts, hat bands, wallets, checkbooks, suspenders and money clips.
There is a recent cloud of controversy hanging over the snake-hunting culture. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department may outlaw a common way of catching rattlers. It’s called gassing.
Hunters take a hand-held pump sprayer and shoot gas fumes down a likely snake hole. The snakes come pouring out, dazed, and are easy prey.
“I liken this to fishing with dynamite,” TPWD director of wildlife diversity John Davis told the New York Times. Twenty-nine states, including New Mexico and Oklahoma, already ban the practice.