Why Texans Love A Rattlesnake Roundup And Why Everyone Should Try It Once

Our cabin is about 2 miles from Walnut Springs, a small town (population less than 750) 13 miles south of Glen Rose and about halfway between Waco and Fort Worth. The community is most known for its annual Rattlesnake Roundup, held the first weekend in March. We have 10 acres west of the town with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom log cabin. We added the complete wrap-around porch 3 feet off the ground so the grandkids could run, play, and be safe at our getaway.

Knowing that this is scorpion and rattlesnake country, one of the first things I purchased when we bought the property was a pair of women’s Chippewa 15-inch snake boots, leather with a thick 1,000-denier Cordura Viper cloth shaft from my ankle up to my knee. I feel safe wearing my snake boots.

Speaking of rattlesnakes, have you ever attended a rattlesnake roundup? We always stopped by every year, bought a t-shirt, scanned the vendors, and purchased a souvenir. This year, I attended my first rattlesnake roundup, where I paid for a $5 ticket and went inside the snake pit arena to learn about the snakes and support the youth in agriculture. It creeped me out! Let’s find out more.

Snake handler stands in the pit of snakes (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)

What Is A Rattlesnake Roundup?

The first weekend in March, Walnut Springs held its 11th Annual Rattlesnake Roundup, a fundraiser sponsored by the Walnut Springs Business for Youth in Agriculture. For years, the community hosted a Rattlesnake Roundup, first started by the Lions Club, then taken over by the Business for Youth in Agriculture in 2011.

This little town of under 750 people swells to several thousand over the 3-day weekend, raising funds for agriculture youth and providing a kick to the local economy. It seems to be a big draw for bikers.

Over 50 vendors sell barbecue, kettle corn, turkey legs, sausage on a stick, cotton candy, snacks, leather goods, knives, purses, and handmade crafts. A vendor sells snakeskin belts and wallets and shows a stuffed snake and snakeheads right at the entrance to the rattlesnake arena.

There is a barbecue cook-off, carnival, street dance, bands, cornhole contest, camping hookups, and a dealer selling the annual Walnut Springs Rattlesnake Roundup t-shirt, koozies, and caps.

Brave snake handlers pile snakes on top of a volunteer. (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)

And every hour, tickets are sold to see the Annual Rattlesnake Demonstration by dare-devil snake handlers who sit in the den and allow snakes to cover their legs, place them on their heads, and demo venom milking. An announcer tells the crowd about rattlesnakes, their role in nature, caution in the wild, recommended snake bite kits, and “don’t try this at home” demonstrations.

On the first day, prizes are awarded for the most snakes caught by weight, at 49 pounds, the largest snake, and the smallest snake. The snakes are bought and sold when the roundup is over, and the rest travel to the next roundup. These snake charmers make their rounds to eight roundups across Texas annually.

Woman pets a rattlesnake at the Rattlesnake Roundup (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)

Reasons Texans Love A Rattlesnake Roundup

I think the reason Texans love a Rattlesnake Roundup is the intrigue. I’m afraid of snakes, but I want to see the captured snakes in a controlled environment where I know they can’t hurt me. My skin still crawled!

These roundups are historically significant events in small towns and attract larger crowds than a rodeo, fair, or carnival. They boost the economy and help raise funds for charity or a community cause.

How To Visit A Rattlesnake Roundup

Most rattlesnake roundups in Texas happen in the spring, in late February and early March. Watch for roundup promotions, plan a weekend, and go. Usually, there are events, cookoffs, vendors selling wares, carnivals, street dances, and the intriguing snake arena with a grandstand to accommodate the crowds. On average, you’ll pay $5 for an entry ticket.

Since 1958, the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has reigned as the world’s largest and one of the oldest traditional festivals in central Texas. A parade, carnival, and Miss Snake Charmer Pageant kick off the weekend with awards for the most snakes brought in and the largest snake.

Here, you can enter a snake eating contest or watch a snake cookoff. Sweetwater is probably the most PETA-critical of the roundups, where they harvest about a thousand pounds of rattlers for the cookoff.

In mid-March, the Lone Star Expo and Rattlesnake Roundup in Brownwood promotes 3 days of food, vendor booths, and programs about rattlesnakes.

Oglesby Lions Club Rattlesnake Roundup is a March celebration that’s been around since 1969. Hunters compete for prizes for the longest snake and the most by weight. Learn about snakes, frequent the food and vendor booths, and enjoy the carnival rides.

Big Spring Rattlesnake Roundup, about 90 miles south of Lubbock, happens every spring, where snake handlers go ankle-deep in a snake pit with “can you top this” demonstrations.

Diamondback Rattlesnake (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)

Facts I Learned About Rattlesnakes

  • Rattlesnakes live throughout North and South America, with the most significant population in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico.
  • Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlers, more than any other state.
  • Rattlesnakes can range from 1 foot to 8 feet long, with a thick body and patterned dark diamonds or hexagons on a lighter background with a triangular head. 
  • Rattlers have heat-sensing facial pits, hinged fangs, produce venom, and have vertical pupils like a cat’s eyes.
  • Young rattlesnakes don’t have rattlers yet but can be as dangerous as adults.
  • Their rattles are a very effective warning signal. They are segments of keratin that fit loosely inside one another at the end of a snake’s tail. When the snake holds its tail vertically and vibrates its rattle, you hear an alarming buzzing or rattling sound. Each time a snake sheds its skin, it adds another segment to the rattle.
  • There have been 86 rattlesnake bites reported to the Texas Poison Center Network for the first half of 2021, compared to 75 in the first half of 2020.
  • 28 percent of those bitten by a snake are intoxicated.
  • In 2020, Texas poison centers had a 54 percent increase in snake calls, probably due to more people venturing outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On average, five Americans die from a snake bite every year.
  • Honeybee stings and lightning strikes kill 20 times more people annually than all the rattlesnake bites combined.
  • 57 percent of snake bites happened to people handling a snake.
  • 85 percent of bites are to the hands and fingers.
  • Only 13 percent of bites occur on the legs or feet. Also, it’s infrequent for a snake to bite above the ankle.
  • The most poisonous snake in the U.S. is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, with a 30 percent mortality rate. It is a giant venomous snake in North America with one of the most dangerous bites.
  • With veterinary care, up to 80 percent of bitten dogs will survive a snakebite.
  • Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common. Between 1988 and 2001, people feared snakes the most.
  • As of 2019, people fear spiders the most, with snakes remaining a close second.
  • In colder climates, rattlesnakes hibernate during the winter in dens made in rocky crevices or holes in the ground. They may use the same shelter for years.
  • Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous; eggs incubate inside the mother’s body, and the babies are born alive, encased in a thin membrane that they puncture after birth.
  • Rattlers mate during the spring and summer, and the mothers can store sperm for months before fertilizing the eggs. They carry their babies for about 3 months, giving birth to 10 baby rattlers every 2 years. Mothers don’t spend time with their young, who slither off soon after birth.
  • Rattlers can live for 10 to 25 years.
  • Rattlesnakes eat about every 2 weeks, small rodents and lizards that they paralyze with a speedy strike. They swallow the victim whole after the venom paralyzes the prey.
  • The most significant ongoing debate continues to be the gassing method to collect rattlesnakes. Texas Parks and Wildlife works with snake collectors to promote safe and effective collection practices.
  • Snakes provide a lot to ecosystems worldwide, and we need them.
  • We need to do our part to help reduce our environmental impact and protect the reptile’s natural habitat.
Man shows the fangs of a rattlesnake (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)

What To Do If A Snake Bites You

  • If possible, get a quick photo of the snake to help get the correct antivenom.
  • Call 911, and while you wait, clean the wound with soapy water and cover it with a clean dressing. Remove jewelry.
  • Keep calm, remain as still as possible, and keep the bite area below the level of your heart to keep the venom from spreading.
  • Dying from a snake bite after getting the antivenom is very rare, but knowing what to do ahead of time is good.

How To Avoid A Snake Bite?

  • I wear long pants and my snake boots and watch where I am stepping.
  • Avoid tall grass and stay on the trail.
  • We keep the area around the cabin mowed and trimmed, so there are no convenient hiding places for snakes.
  • Never put your hand where you can’t see what’s near it when climbing.
  • If you spot a snake, keep your distance.
  • Never pick up a snake, even if you think it’s dead.

Fun Fact: The opossum is a lifesaver. It can withstand up to 80 rattlesnake bites. Thanks to the opossum, there is an antidote to poisonous snake venom. Also, they eat ticks and don’t get rabies.

After you visit a rattlesnake roundup, explore the rest of the Lone Star State:

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