Western Diamondback Rattlesnake -- Oklahoma Variety
I was beginning to wonder if my friends weren't right about us. It was 6:45 AM and my morning had started with the buzzing of my alarm clock at 5 AM. I was behind the wheel and Mike VanSant was on my passenger side as two of my buddies followed in a motor cycle escort. Charles Haley was in the backseat, filling in as our back-up cameraman on our first ever rattlesnake hunt.
We had been called a lot worse this week by many of our friends as our rattlesnake hunt grew nearer the weekend of April 3rd. I had been trying to set up a rattlesnake hunt for this spring with some good snake hunters I knew, but there was one guy I knew that I really wanted to take us.
Doug and Shannon Vaughn
Doug Vaughn from his own aptly named Rattler Ridge Ranch. Doug had been a gas well pumper on mine and my In-laws property and he introduced himself as a snake hunter from the first time we met him. Over the years Doug had hunted our dens, crawling over rocks and onto ledges searching for the big deadly reptiles, taking many of our big rattlers home with him.
I didn't mind!!
We were meeting Doug in Blocker, Oklahoma at 9:30 AM to hunt snakes for the first time for any member of the wildhoghunters.com team.
Donnie Achimon and Billy Garner were following us on their motorcycles because I had called Donnie earlier in the week looking for a back-up cameraman and Donnie was very familiar with one of my video cameras. Surprisingly all my other cameraman back ups had things to do the weekend we were going snake hunting. Donnie had gotten back with me after Charlie had already volunteered to go. I told him to come on and planned on using Donnie's photography skills getting us some great stills for the site and to document our adventure.
We ate breakfast at Wheeler's in Kiowa and was promptly on time at the small store in Blocker, standing at the back of my truck when Doug and Shannon pulled in. We greeted each other and then we followed them back to their house.
My property at McCurtain is a long ways back off the main road, but Doug's is a bit further. When we finally got to his long driveway a green street sign marking it as Rattler Ridge greeted us.
As we pulled up in front of Doug's house all three of us in the truck noticed the two big metal cages to the right of the drive and a wooden sign with Vaughn cut into it along with Rattler Ridge. Doug was parked and he and Shannon were near the cages and we were sure they had snakes in them. Once we got out of the truck we heard the background noise of a dozen rattles going.
Snakes in Cages
Rattlesnake with the grabber
We made our introductions and let them know Mike was our snake catcher. The rest of us were there to film and take pictures. Doug walked to the cages and started tossing snakes on the driveway as I found out there were several higher pucker factors than I had previously thought possible when those snakes were coiling up a few feet away and all my snake gear was still in the backseat of the truck.
"Its kinda cool so they'll just coil up!" Doug explained as he stepped back admiring his snakes and I am sure our reactions as well.
They did coil up and we took several pictures, being careful to stay out of range. I got the video camera and ran it before Mike took it away from me to get in close to where Doug was at. I got the still cameras and passed them around and told everyone to just take pictures.
We took a lot of pictures and video, then we moved back to the truck and put on our gear. As we were putting on our chaps another truck arrived. Joel Vaughn is Doug's son and a hunter, but not as interested in hunting snakes as his dad. He had seen our site and knew we were going to be filming so he wanted to be involved today and he brought his friend, Cole Kelley, along too.
MIke holding a big rattler
They had their gear ready and once we were "suited" up, Doug had Mike holding a big rattlesnake and we took some more pictures. Then we mounted up and headed up the mountain to the big den on Doug's place. I was glad my truck was 4 wheel drive by the time we got to the top cause man it was steep there at the last!!
We had the cameras ready and I went over operating the smaller camera with Charles. Right before we left I slung the western gunbelt around my hips and tied the holster in place. The .45 LC Vaquero was full of snakeshot and I felt a little more confident in the whole affair.
Wild snake hunters -- Why does it look like we are heading for the OK Corral??
Walking over 100 yards back down a road that ran along the edge of the mountain, Doug finally gave the signal for us to drop down the hill. He and Michael climbed down below a big outcrop of rock that had broke through the surface several million years ago and littered the area right below it with large boulders and slabs that made perfect rattlesnake habitat.
In less than a minute Doug had spotted one and when he hollered for Mike he was busy checking one out he had spotted himself.
I saw really quickly I was not close enough to the action.
Glancing at Shannon, I said, "Shannon, I have to get down there."
"Okay," she said, "But we might have to slide down this slab on our butts!"
She took the lead and I couldn't help but grin. God I admire country girls!! I was right on her heels and we got to the bottom in time to see Doug catching the one closest to him and Mike was engaged with catching the other one.
"Don't let him get bit," Shannon whispered, as I moved to where I could see Mike and the snake in the camera. If he did get bit I wanted it on video!!
Mike caught the snake and Shannon was right there with the bag. And less than 10 minutes into the hunt we had two big snakes in bags. The big snake was over five feet and the smaller one was over four. Not monsters, but a good, fun start!
Shannon holding the bag while Mike puts a rattler in it
We moved down the line of rocks, Shannon and I several feet behind Doug and Mike as they studied the ground and ledges in front of them for rattlers. I was leading now and Shannon was right on my heels. I warned her I was not responsible for her getting trampled in a runaway situation and she told me the same was true for her! Charles was moving down the rocks behind us, looking for a different angle as he traversed the jumble of boulders.
Charles following along behind Shannon and Me
Shannon and I following the action
Mike spotted one and he moved in to catch it. He caught it pretty quick and I felt my body tense as he pulled the big snake toward him, positioning the grabbers to where he could grip it behind the head. Within a minute we had another snake in a sack.
"He's doing good, " Shannon said. "He ain't hesitating at all."
I had seen real quickly the key to snake hunting is commitment. If you are squeamish about touching snakes, this is not for you. Mike grasped them quickly and firmly and those big rattlers shook themselves like crazy.
"Hey up here!" Donnie and Billy had found two rattlers breeding on a ledge up above us. We all climbed up to the top of the ridge and checked them out. They were nice size snakes, but Doug wanted to leave them alone and let them finish their business.
Yeah, Doug really loves rattlesnakes!!
We moved back down the hill, our little ragtag team of snake hunters and camera guys, everyone excited and less nervous about snake hunting than we were when we began.
Doug stopped and I stopped next to him.
"I'm a little disappointed," Doug said. "I was hoping we would see a lot of snakes. There's usually 30 or more snakes in the area we just crossed."
"I think we're having a pretty good snake hunt for our first hunt Doug." I really did. We were having fun.
We finished our rest and Doug took off. I was behind him and Doug and Mike were together. Doug pointed at a ledge ahead of us.
Doug and Mike hot after the big snakes
"That's a big one laying up there, boys," he said, pointing at it as Mike spotted it too.
Mike moved up toward the ledge, circling the snake to where he could get in behind it.
The snake made a run for it as Mike approached and he grabbed it back toward the tail, pulling it out. As the snake came out of the rocks he turned, striking the grabber as Mike dropped it at his feet and grabbed it again. This was the biggest snake of the day and he fought, striking the grabber again as Mike repositioned him one more time.
Mike and a big rattler
I did not really like being slightly down hill of all the action cause you know things eventually go down hill!! I stood my ground and got the final grab Mike made before he had the snake well in hand!! Shannon brought the bag up and Mike and Doug bagged the snake.
Mike with one of the rattlers taking it to the bag
That was the last snake on that ridge that we caught and we climbed up on top and we were just down thirty or forty yards from the trucks in the opposite direction from the way we had left.
We stood at the truck together and we were all pretty tired from the adrenaline and climbing all over the rocks.
"So what do you boys think?" Doug asked.
Mike grinned. "It was pretty fun! I liked it."
"It didn't bother me nearly as much as I thought it might," I said, putting my camera away.
"Rattlesnakes usually try to get away," Doug said. "Some will stay and fight, but the big ones would rather avoid people." He chuckled. "Those cottonmouths that den with the rattlers on your place make a man's hair stand on end."
"So the cottonmouths are bad on my place?" I asked.
Grunting, Doug said, "The worst I ever seen anywhere."
We packed up and headed back to his house. Once we got there Donnie and Billy had to leave. We all shook hands and they claimed to have had a great time. They had taken some awesome still photos for us.
Donnie Achimon taking a close up of the snakes. He did not even wear snake boots on the hunt!!
Doug and Joel dumped the snakes out and it was a scramble to get them put in the cages. While they were putting the new snakes up Shannon went inside and got us all some ice water. Man it hit the spot!!
We were heading to Mike Krebs place next to hunt a big den he has on his ranch. We loaded up in three trucks and we were at his place in less than 15 minutes. Mike wanted to go with us and so we were waiting on him. He came out in a bit and we all introduced ourselves. Mike had known my father-in-law for quite some time.
We took two trucks to where the road up the mountain really started and then we all switched to Doug's truck. It was a bumpy ride up the hill and it was steep where Doug finally brought it to a stop.
Joel, Cole and Charlie were at the top of the ridge while Mike, Mike Krebs, Doug, Shannon and I walked down in the same kind of rock Doug had on his place. We had not gone far when Doug stopped.
"Winds killing us," he said. "We should have found snakes by now."
"Got one!" Joel hollered from up top as he moved in with his snake pole. It looked a lot like a long piece of green cane with a metal L on it to hold a snake down until you could grab it.
The snake was not a huge one, but it was over 4 feet and I had my camera on him from below. Charlie was right on top of it. It was mid-80s and that snake was active !! Joel started trying to catch him and that snake was trying to get away.
Joel Vaughn after a big rattler on Mike Krebs Ranch
Joel had the snake at one time and it broke his grip, making him drop it as he leaned over to snatch it by the tail. He didn't see the snake's head beside the tail as he made his reach. Charlie barked a warning at him and he snatched his hand back just in time!
The snake decided he was getting the heck out and he took off as Joel grabbed him and held his head down with his snake pole. In just a second we seen him with the snake in hand and they got it put in a bag and cinched up.
Joel trying to bag the snake alone
That was exciting!! It was also the only snake we saw at Mike's.
We went back to Mike's house and did a short interview with Joel. This was his first snake he had ever caught by himself and I know we were all happy for him.
Mike and Joel Vaughn after the hunt
We thanked Mike Krebs and went back to Doug's to get 5 snakes to bring home with us to mount. We wanted some more pictures and I was going to take some video with my small Kodak camera of Mike holding the biggest snake when Doug and Joel dumped another snake on the group. They grabbed at it twice, missed it as it slithered past Mike and towards me.
With a curse, I nimbly danced out of the way as Joel and Doug caught the snake. Doug played with it as I got some friendly teasing about moving faster than I had all day. I am sure I did. I had a hell of a motivator!!
WIld Hog Hunters and Doug Vaughn
We visited a while longer, hating to leave as we dreaded the drive back after having had such an incredible day.
Doug and Shannon invited us back and we decided next time we would hunt my dens on my property on down the road another 45 minutes. I have 3 or 4 dens on my place and I really would like to remove some of those snakes.
Our Friends and Hosts for a great snake hunt!!
Thanks to Doug and Shannon and to Joel and Cole as well for showing us such a great time and what rattlesnake hunting is all about. We are definitely going back!!