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published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Stalking snakes in the Everglades
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- "It was a good clean shot, one shot to the head," Calvin Turner said. "I used a 12-gauge shotgun and no. 4 steel heads, like you do duck with. I shot him under the jaw; it left the top of the head intact in one piece. Luck was in my favor. If I were as lucky with the lottery, I'd be enjoying it."
Turner is talking about an 11-foot python he killed in the Everglades Sunday.
Turner, and his friend and fellow hunter, Chris Henry, entered the Python Challenge 2013, sponsored by the Florida Wildlife Commission. From now until midnight on Feb. 10, the commission, with the help of several private foundations and public agencies, is holding a python hunt and kill program. Hunting opened Saturday.
Two cash prizes are at stake -- $1,000 for the largest snake killed; $1,500 for the most.
The challenge is not about sport.
It's not too much to say the balance of nature is seriously threatened in the Everglades. The challenge is to remove the intrusive pythons, which have no natural enemies there and threaten local mammals, reptiles and birds.
Turner entered the challenge unconvinced that pythons were a menace. He changed his mind during his first two days hunting. His GPS tracking 229 miles.
"It was eerie," Turner said. "We didn't see hide nor hair of small animals. No field rats, no raccoons, no rabbits, no alligators under five feet. Didn't see any wading birds. That was the strange part of the deal, there was nothing moving. It was funny, no mammals on the levy at the area where I was. They're not there. There's nothing to see."
Turner and Henry did not see any snakes Saturday. It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that they encountered their catch.
Turner walked up to the top of the levy with a pair of binoculars to scout the area. Looking down where the levy's berm met the water, he saw a python sunning itself in an area of saw grass and cattails.
His first thought was that it was so big he needed a gun to kill it. His second thought was that his 12-gauge shotgun was back on his air boat.
He ran to the boat, got his gun and ran back to the snake, afraid it would have disappeared. It hadn't, however, which turned out to be its final mistake. Back up to the top of the levy, Turner took aim and killed the male Burmese python with a single shot. He and Henry pulled the body up to the top of the levy, from there loading it into their boat and back to Holiday Park where the organizers had a receiving team.
What floored him, Turner said, besides the weight of the reptile, which he estimated at between 100 and 130 pounds -- "But, like a fish story, it gets bigger and bigger," Turner warned -- was how far from habitation the snake was. "We were 30 miles away from any dog, cat or human," he said.
As of Tuesday morning, 11 pythons have been killed.
Turner is a welder and builds custom barbecue equipment -- his company's name is R.A.R.E., standing for Raggedy Ass Redneck Equipment -- and looks forward to going out again, even though a weekend expedition is expensive, he said, because of the cost of fuel, room and food.
There is a per-person $25 fee to enter, and an online course is required for the no-cost permit. As of Tuesday, more than 1,000 permits have been distributed to people from 30 states.
Teens 16 and younger may not compete. Older teens must be accompanied by an adult.
For more details Google Python Challenge 2013.
To report python sightings call 888-IveGot1 (483-4861).
Python Challenge (by: Rebecca - 1/17/2013)
Shooting from or on the levee is not allowed, read the rules!
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