This year was the 58th anniversary of the Waynoka Snake Hunt organized by the Waynoka Saddle Club. Rattlesnakes are displayed in a large pit. There are always two or three people in the pit (wearing tall boots). They pick up the snakes and allow spectators to touch and pose for photos with them. The combined rattling of all those snakes is audible from the sidewalk outside.
I spent some time with Moon Mullins, the club secretary, and Sam McCall, a board member, and learned that the club has about 40 local members but many more from all over the country. Moon was kind enough to take the time to answer a number of questions for me.
CC: Where did the snakes in the pit come from?
Moon: Some are captured locally, and some are brought from Texas.
CC: Tell me about the competition.
Moon: There are cash prizes for longest diamondback (1st through 4th), the longest Oklahoma gyp rock snake (1st and 2nd), the longest prairie rattler, and the most rattles on a rattlesnake.
CC: How long is the winning snake likely to be?
Moon: Last year’s winning diamond back was 80-1/8 inches long.
CC: How many hunters enter?
Moon: There are lots of them out there. There will probably be 10 to 15 hunters that will be competitive. Others bring snakes in to be sold to the Waynoka Saddle Club. All of the hunters are required to be licensed by the state. The prime hunting time is in the morning before the heat of the day.
CC: What happens to the snakes?
Moon: They are displayed in the pit during the weekend. Some are butchered for the meat and hides. The rest are sold to a commercial buyer who milks them for the venom to be used for research and to produce anti-venom. He also has a novelty company that sells various products made from the skin or rattles.
CC: How many club members get into the pit with the snakes?
Moon: There are fewer all the time due to young people leaving the area. Currently we have around 20 young men that do it. They are required to be at least 18. Many of the older members have retired from handling the snakes.
CC: Do the handlers get training?
Moon: This is farm and ranch country. These youngsters have been around snakes for most of their lives. Most of them get their first exposure to snakes when they go to gather eggs. There are always snakes in the chicken house.
CC: How do you feel about having all these bikers in town?
Moon: We’re happy to have them. Everyone gets along, and it’s a big boost for the local economy.
CC: Thanks for your time.