Aug 15, 2022 - News

Florida Python Challenge lessons: Snakes are good at hiding

Selene looks for snakes
Look at Selene in the swamp! Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Well, friends, we didn't catch any snakes.

Why it matters: The 2022 Florida Python Challenge ended Sunday, and while the winners and total haul will be announced soon, rest assured Axios Tampa Bay's Ben Montgomery and Selene San Felice came in last place.

But, but, but: In trying, we learned a ton.

Be prepared: We got our "snake hooks" at Walmart's garden section and found ourselves doing a lot of Googling in the gun section. Ben forgot a screwdriver and planned to pith the snake's brain with a pencil.

Think like a snake: Ben was so excited when we got to the swamp that he pulled the car over and dove into some brush on the side of the Tamiami Trail, then had to quickly retreat after being attacked by fire ants.

  • We found a very snakey-looking spot near Burns Lake in the Big Cypress National Preserve, strapped on our gaiters and waded through shin-deep water for about an hour.
  • Selene eventually overcame her fear of every single thing, and even started poking around for snakes. She relaxed once she stopped wondering what animals would seek revenge on her for entering their home.
  • She even admitted the swamp was beautiful. Alas, we didn't see any pythons.
Ben and Selene in the swamp with snake hooks.
You always want to take a snake hook and person smaller than you on a python hunt. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

The other side: We met trapper Kenne Helm turning in an 8-foot-3-inch python at a challenge checkpoint.

His advice: "Get a fortune teller."

  • Successful snake hunters drive around at night, looking for the blue hue that will emanate from a snake when passed over by a flashlight. Your best bet is actually waiting for them to slither around the side of the road as you drive.
  • But even the pros strike out often, he said. He recalled hunting for hours in the same spot some "kids" found the record-breaking 18-foot python and even coming across them before calling it quits for the night.

The bottom line: Maybe the real reward was the friends we made along the way?

What's next: We promised you snakes, and we will deliver. Ssssstay tuned.

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