Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 3, 2014

For area family, hunting snakes a way of life

TAHLEQUAH — Blake Harris has spent most of his life around diamondback rattlesnakes.

The NSU communications graduate student, along with his father, Eric, and older brother, C.W., recently caught nine of the reptiles during a trip to western Oklahoma near Mountain View.

“That’s probably the best we have ever done in one trip, so it was a good year,” said Blake.

His father, Eric, has been hunting rattlesnakes for about 20 years after being introduced to snake hunting through a friend. His sons grew up around rattlesnakes, but 23 year-old Blake actually began hunting about nine years ago.

“It’s just a hobby of ours,” said Eric. “Some people jump out of airplanes; we hunt rattlesnakes.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s a casual hobby. Rattlesnakes are extremely dangerous, even after they have been killed. The fangs remain poisonous long after the snake is dead and the head has been removed.

Eric said that’s why the only people he will go hunting with are his two sons, because he won’t go with someone he cannot trust to hunt safely.

Blake agreed.

“We want to skillfully catch these things without anyone getting hurt,” said Blake. “We are very careful and we know what we are dealing with.”

He said they always check under each rock they step on, and they were boots to protect their feet.

Blake said they also use a mirror to direct light under rocks, as well as a clamp to go around the rattlesnake’s neck, and a hook the help balance the rest of its body.

“When you grab a rattlesnake, it’s thrashing around like a fish out of water,” said Blake.

Blake and Eric both said this makes them skeptical of television shows where the hosts pick up docile rattlesnakes, supposedly from the wild.

“It’s a bit more than just picking them up,” said Blake. “They don’t want to be caught.”

After the Harrises have initially caught a snake, they will put it in a spring-laundry basket with a zipper. To stop the snake from biting the person carrying it, the laundry hamper is put inside a thick canvas bag.

From there, the snakes are kept in two-spring wire boxes with two wired walls and a dead space between the walls so when a rattlesnake strikes at the side of the box, it cannot bite those outside.

After the Harrises have finished a hunting trip, they take the snakes home to Coweta.

“We catch them, skin them and eat them,” said Eric. “Contrary to what people say, they don’t taste anything like chicken; they taste much more like frog legs.”

Blake said he and his family do not sell the skins, though they have been approached by people with the proper licenses to buy and sell snake skins.

“That is really the most regulated part of rattlesnake hunting,” said Blake.

There is an official hunting season for rattlesnakes, March 1 to June 30, which is open to anyone with a hunting license. Without a license, a hunter must buy a five-day pass. There is no daily limit on hunting rattlesnakes.

“We’re not going out there to decimate a den,” said Eric.

The Harrises only catch large males and leave behind smaller snakes, as well as females, so the dens will be inhabited the next year.

“We’re hunting the big ones,” said Eric. “It’s kind of like fishing; you’re always after the world record.”

Blake has another goal as well. The Harrises hunt exclusively in western Oklahoma, where diamondback rattlesnakes are most prevalent. Timber rattlesnakes are the most common in the Tahlequah area.

“I have always wanted to catch on of those,” said Blake.

He keeps a bagger and catcher in his vehicle while he is at school, in case he ever sees one crossing a road or in a public place where it would be unsafe for a rattlesnake to be.

Blake is also interested in photography as part of his studies, previously as a Media Studies major and now as a communications graduate student. He said some of his best photography has been of diamondback rattlesnakes that he, his father and brother have caught.

“I’ve had other people say they are the best pictures of diamondback they have every seen,” said Blake.

When people first find out about his unusual hobby, Harris said they often give him a disgusted face and immediately think he has been bitten or otherwise put in a dangerous situation.

“Some else might think I’m a nut case, but for me, it’s just a way of life,” said Blake Harris.

svanwyk@tahlequahdailypress.com

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