Way back in 1958, the West Texas town of Sweetwater had two problems. Ranchers complained they were losing too many cattle to rattlesnake bites and the city fathers needed to raise funds for local charities. The Junior Chamber of Commerce (JAYCEES) decided to solve both by hosting an annual rattlesnake roundup. It turned into a bonanza. Every year some 30,000 tourists show up for the fiesta, paying $6.00 to watch the snakes being milked of their venom, weighed, then killed and skinned. The braver visitors can also partake of deep fried rattlesnake steaks.




The Jaycees schedule this annual event on the second weekend in March. There are the standard carnival offerings of rides and games and a parade but the founders decided having a Miss Rattlesnake contest would attract few contestants. Instead, local girls can compete for the title of Miss Snake Charmer.




Tourists are not the only ones showing up for the festival which the Texas Legislature has named The Official Rattlesnake Roundup Of Texas. Commercial buyers are there , too. Some represent medical research laboratories who purchase the venom the handlers collect. Companies specializing in wild game are there to bid on the carcasses. $5 per pound is the average price. The diamondback skins bring $5 to $6 per foot. What can you do with the skin — For $15, you can make a very unique necktie.




There are always a few Chinese buyers. As the snake is dismembered, the handlers carefully preserve the gall bladder. It supposedly contains some powerful ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine.




Some tourists opt for guided tours in search of snakes but most stay in Sweetwater to watch snake-handlers milk, kill and skin the rattlers. Every showman does a real crowd-pleaser. After milking, several of the snakes are released. The handler goads the snake with an inflated balloon until the enraged snake strikes out, puncturing the balloon with his fangs.




It was inevitable that environmental organizations protested the Rattlesnake Roundup, since it upsets the ecological balance. A rattlesnake normally kills and consumes 20 rodents per year. Take a thousand off the range and there are 20,000 more rodents in Nolan County. The Jaycees discount this, offering this as evidence. In 2002 the roundup captured 3,005 pounds of rattlesnakes. In 2003 they captured 4,207 pounds. So far, there is no shortage of rattlesnakes. Local ranchers are delighted with the annual harvest. Stock losses from snake bites have declined since 1958.




Naturally, some hunters cheat by catching and storing these rattlers then bringing them to the roundup. Prizes are given for the most catches, the highest total weight, and the largest rattlesnake. The city makes a tidy profit from the festival and the hunters do well when they sell their catch. So, if you have nothing better to do, y'all just mosey on down to Sweetwater, Texas on the weekend of 8-9 March for their annual Rattlesnake Roundup.




I've never eaten deep-fried rattlesnake but I understand its full of bones and tastes like chicken. However, the Jaycees provided a recipe I will pass along.




INGREDIENTS:




1 rattlesnake, cleaned and cut into pieces




1/2 cup flour




1/4 cup cornmeal




1/4 cup cracker crumbs




1/2 cup milk




1 egg, beaten




1/2 teaspoon garlic powder




Salt, pepper to taste




PREPARATION: Mix dry ingredients. Whisk egg and milk together.Dip steaks in milk, roll in dry mix to coat. Fry, uncovered in hot oil until golden brown.