Florida declares open season on pythons in annual challenge

Phil Keating reports from Florida


Barefoot and accompanied by his beagle and pal Big Bill Booth, Dusty Crum eagerly set out to hunt, catch and/or kill as many Burmese pythons as possible.

Crum is one of more than 600 adventurous men and women from 24 states who paid $25 to participate in Florida’s 2nd Python Challenge. The first, held three years ago, netted 68 of the snakes. This time, Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes to remove more, although their camouflage in Florida’s Everglades making them extremely difficult to find, especially for amateurs.

“Oh, we’re so pumped!” said Crum.  “It’s like a month-long frenzy and we’re just ready to get in the action and get some of it!”

“It’s like a month-long frenzy and we’re just ready to get in the action and get some of it!”

- Dusty Crum, amateur python hunter

Jarrod Johnson, William Spake and Logan Adams hail from Cocoa Beach, Fla. They share Crum's big python dreams.  

“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Spake. “This is our first time, all three of us. Not expecting a lot. I know catching the pythons is actually super hard, but we’re going to go full throttle with this and see what we can do.”

Fox News went air boating into the swamps with Florida Wildlife Commissioner and Sunshine State legend "Alligator" Ron Bergeron, whose family has been hunting alligators for eight generations. Machetes in hand, Bergeron and his guests hacked through the brush and trudged through the thick, black mud—prime python habitat—for an hour with no luck.

Notoriously elusive and not native to North America, pythons have no natural predators in Florida and strangle and eat everything. The population of Burmese pythons, which are native to India and other parts of Asia, likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Sight surveys in Everglades National Park have shown a drastic reduction in the state’s small mammal populations.

“You know, rabbits, coons, deer, bobcat, panthers, bear,” said Bergeron. “That’s what the snake eats. And being an invasive snake, they can get 20 feet long and weigh 200 pounds."

At the Python Challenge kick-off event, a wily python demonstration showed the snake hunters the trick to catching and bagging a python barehanded. The technique calls for coming up from behind the animal, pouncing on it and pinning down its head before it can bite or wrap its powerful body around the hunter. Other weapons allowed for the hunt: machetes and guns.

Whoever catches the most pythons in the month-long challenge wins $3,500 - enough to turn one of the trophies into a new wallet, belt or pair of boots.

Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC's Miami-based correspondent.