Finally after months of trying, I was able to reconnect with my rattlesnake hunting buddies for another Kansas rattlesnake hunt.


Finally after months of trying, I was able to reconnect with my rattlesnake hunting buddies for another Kansas rattlesnake hunt.

In the spring of 2007 at the Sharon Springs Rattlesnake Roundup, I met Gary Bliss, a rural mail carrier from Downs, and Andy Stewart, a retired insurance man from Liberal. They took me rattlesnake hunting for the first time in a huge, sprawling prairie dog town outside Sharon Springs.

That weekend, we caught several prairie rattlesnakes, and I learned a little about the art of hunting them here in Kansas, and a lot about their life in and around prairie dog towns.

I’d watched the seven-day weather forecast all week, and the weather was shaping up fine for snake hunting … until the day we left. Friday morning, I drove from here to Ulysses with nothing but sunshine, and 30 minutes later, it was drizzling.

We looked at a couple prairie dog towns we had gotten permission to hunt, then drove in the rain to our room in Syracuse. Friday afternoon, we went farther west to Coolidge and looked up Ron Knotts, who raises pheasants just outside Coolidge. Just north of his place are literally sections of prairie dog infested pastures, and we had permission to hunt several hundred acres of them.

Prairie rattlesnakes often live in these “dog-towns” where they have absolutely everything they need to survive. Being reptiles, they need sunshine to warm up and shade to cool off, both of which are provided by prairie dog holes, along with shelter from the weather and prairie dog prepared any way they like it and anytime they want it.

As the air warms up, snakes can be found sunning themselves in or atop entrances to the holes, or traveling across the ground from hole to hole. Gary took along his Polaris Ranger and, despite cool, windy, drizzly weather, we spent Friday afternoon and most of Saturday cruising prairie dog towns in it or walking among the holes hoping to catch sight of some snakes.

Sunday morning became sunny and warm, but by noon we had still chalked up a big zero in the rattlesnake department. Outwardly, it seemed like just a long drive to stay in a motel, eat out and cruise around pastures full of prairie dogs on an ATV.

However, Gary and Andy have a company called Rattlesnake Wranglers that has taken them (and a “passel” of snakes) all across the Midwest providing professional rattlesnake handling exhibitions at outdoor shows of all types, and Gary was a wealth of interesting stories he was more than willing to tell. Here’s my favorite, though it has very little to do with snake hunting.

One day some years ago, while Gary was in the Corner Cupboard convenience store in Osborne, it came across their scanner that a coyote had gotten into Country Flowers, the local flower shop on Main Street in Osborne.

Anxious to see how this would all play out, Gary headed to the flower shop for the festivities. The poor disoriented coyote cowered beneath some shelves toward the back of the store, obviously growling at anyone who got close. The police chief was there but had no idea at all how to extract the hapless coyote from the store.

Gary went to the pickup and retrieved one of his ever-present snake catchers, a larger, heavier version of the “grippers” used by seniors and wheelchair-bound people to pick things up. Grasping the coyote by one hind leg with the catcher, he dragged it from the store and into the alley.

The chief insisted he release it there on the spot, and when he did, it promptly ran into the Coast to Coast hardware store nearby. Gary marched into Coast to Coast and once again dragged the bewildered beast from the store, and once again, the chief insisted he release it there in the heart of Osborne. This time, the befuddled coyote took the hint and exited town.

Welcome to small town America, where coyotes are still caught with snake catchers and where myriads of other unusual and unlikely events still take place and are still talked and laughed about freely. A long drive to stay in a motel and eat out, a wasted weekend away from home and family; call last weekend what you will, but had I not been there, I would not have heard this story, and this week’s column would have been very abbreviated … Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve Gilliland is a syndicated outdoors columnist, and can be contacted by e-mail at stevegilliland@idkcom.net.