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Python hunting contest draws 800 gun-toting sleuths to Florida

January 12, 2013|By Andrew Khouri
  • Jeff Fobb of the Metro-Dade Fire Rescue venom response team shows how to handle a Burmese python during the start of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's 2013 Python Challenge It has attracted hunters to the Everglades from across the country.
Jeff Fobb of the Metro-Dade Fire Rescue venom response team shows how to… (Mark Randall / South Florida…)

Guns in hand, groups of camouflaged hunters trudged through the Florida Everglades on Saturday hoping to bag a giant Burmese python and a cash prize.

Florida’s Python Challenge began Saturday afternoon, a monthlong event officials hope will help end the terror the invasive species has inflicted upon the environment.

Nearly 800 people from more the 30 states have signed up for the challenge. Two competitions will be held. A small fraction of the contestants are professional python slayers who will compete among themselves. Nearly all the rest are hunters who simply want to bag a giant snake.

Grand prizes will be given out to both groups: $1,500 to whoever harvests the most pythons and $1,000 for the longest.

Justin Matthews, a 55-year-old wildlife rescuer, told the Sun Sentinel he tries to makes sure the pythons don’t suffer.

"I grab him behind the head and stick the knife through his brain," he said. "End it quickly."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is putting on the event with partners, also hopes the competition will increase understanding of the python’s impact on the Everglades and how to combat it.

When contestants drop off their prized catches, they must also provide each snake’s size, GPS location where it was found and other data.

But finding the snakes can be a tough task. The brown-spotted serpents, which can grow to more than 17 feet in the wild in Florida, blend easily into the brush.

“It's advantage snake,” mechanical engineer Dan Keenan told the Associated Press on Saturday.

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