Monday, March 09, 2009

A Knack for Hooking the Longest Rattlers

Favorable rattlesnake weather calls for temperatures in the high 70s, with a gentle southerly breeze to float chaparral kisses deep into the tableland of the Balcones Escarpment. Blessed with such conditions on a weekday in late February, Eric Carl Timaeus loaded an assortment of wood crates, canvas sacks and hooked poles into his pickup truck, where a black rosary swung from the rearview mirror, and set off past miles of caliche pits and Border Patrol checkpoints into the short-grass country. “I’m on the way that way, thought I’d make sure you didn’t have a problem with me going out there today,” Timaeus, 57, said to a rancher on his cellphone. As the reptilian hibernation months have drawn to an end, ranchers across the Rio Grande Valley have been inviting Timaeus to prowl their spreads. A retired soldier with mottled features and a trim goatee, he has compiled nine consecutive titles in the length competition at the Sweetwater Jaycees Rattlesnake Roundup, held each March in West Texas. In recent years Timaeus has made it his practice to arrive at the start of the weekend festival, drop off a 100-pound pile of slithering western diamondbacks and return on Sunday to claim his prize of about $400. Along the way Timaeus has gained a certain renown. Unlike many snake hunters, he does not use gas to flush out dens. He leaves females to breed, babies to grow. He harvests only the longest, heaviest males. And he carries no weapon, preferring to coax live prey into his bag with a dull metal hook in the manner of a charmer. For such intimacy, such delicacy and such sport, directed at these lowest of earthbound creatures, Timaeus has been rewarded with uncontested dominance...NY Times

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