to hunt pythons
Rob Shinn and a buddy spent 18 hours last weekend traipsing through the Everglades near Homestead, Fla. They drove, walked and kayaked over those 18 hours, covering so much area that Shinn couldn’t quite remember how far they trekked, but thinks it was several hundred miles.
They saw everything you’d expect to see in the Everglades: birds, alligators and snakes. Lots and lots of snakes. What they didn’t see was a Burmese python, which they were there to hunt.
“People were traveling from all over to hunt these things. There were even avid hunters down there, and no one has caught a thing,” said Shinn, who lives in Charlotte County.
Shinn and friend were among the 1,194 people who registered to take part in Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2013 Python Challenge, an open competition aimed at eradicating what many biologists believe is a serious threat to Florida’s most treasured, and delicate, ecosystem.
The competition is open to anyone, is free, and doesn’t require hunters to be licensed or even have any previous hunting experience. If you show up with a shotgun, you apparently have as much of a chance to kill a python as someone who shows up with a butcher knife taped to a baseball bat. According to FWC records, people are traveling from as far away as New England and the Midwest for the shot to snag a python.
Susan Smith, assistant director of communication for the FWC, said 21 snakes have been “harvested” since the competition began Jan. 12. Expected to run through February, Smith said there are prizes for the most pythons captured, as well as the longest python captured. Prizes range for $1,000 to $1,500, and of the 1,194 registered in the challenge, only 30 are officially licensed by the state to hunt pythons, Smith said.
She did not know the length of the longest snake captured so far, and added that no one is quite clear how large the python population really is.
“We don’t know exactly how many there are,” Smith said. “The purpose of the challenge is to raise public awareness and understanding of how to limit the impact of an invasive species.”
Shinn didn’t hit the Everglades with a baseball bat. Instead, he said between him and his friend, they had three rifles, one shotgun and two pistols. He admitted it was overkill, but thought it was better to be over prepared than to be suddenly bushwhacked by a wayward python who realized that thousands of people were hunting it.
Even though they caught nothing, he said they plan on going back, even if they end up just hanging out and having a good time again and don’t kill a python. Python killer training was at a minimum, he added.
“They showed us a video of how to kill them in a merciful way, by pinning them down and driving a stake through their head,” Shinn joked. “Or you could just shoot them.”
North Port resident Robert Werdell plans on heading down to the Everglades soon, excited by the idea of possibly catching and killing a Burmese python. An avid hunter, Werdell said he’s going down to hunt with his dad, but doesn’t have much hope that he’ll get his hands on the elusive reptile.
“It’s just an excuse to go out in the woods. I don’t think there’s great odds in catching one,” Werdell said.