THE EVERGLADES, Fla. - So far this "snake season," it's humans 27, pythons 0. But as I found out, becoming one of those lucky enough to bag one of those 27 is anything but easy.
January 12 is when the Burmese Python became Florida's Most Wanted fugitive. The non-native species -- one of the six largest snake types known -- is rumored to have run amok in the everglades with some herpetologists estimating thousands on the loose in that river of grass.
Tampa Bay Times Outdoor editor Terry Tomalin invited me along on his excursion into the snake pit with expert Everglades Guide and Airboat Captain Dave Markett and his friend Amy O'Briant, an avid adventurer who has been out and about all over Florida since she was old enough to walk.
"I'm always up for anything."
So was Terry, with a massive machete. He was ready for action.
"Solid steel," he grinned, cradling the knife with reverence. "This is a tool. It's what you need for snake hunting."
Mr. Markett brought his gun.
"Cold steel or hot lead," he said. "I see a python going down."
Accessible only by airboat, we plunged into the Everglades, pushing off from a landing at Mile Marker 41 along Alligator Alley. Like the other thousand or so hunters who have come in from all over the country, the hunt I'm on focuses in the areas where land meets marshy-ness.
"The reason that this is such a nasty condition," opined Captain Dave, a guide for more than 40 years who hails from Odessa, "is that they are perfectly matched to this environment." The man who's been piloting Airboats through the Everglades since the early 70s went on to say, "They're a reptile that thrives in a hot, wet, damp, nasty environment -- and that's what this is."
But we figured that the approaching cold front pushing through Florida overnight and into the morning hours might flush the snakes into areas to sun themselves where we'd have easy access.
"We are hunting a very few needles in an enormous haystack," sighed Dave -- some 90 minutes into what would be a five-hour tour
Into Everglades camps, and along canals, we searched and searched for those black and tan and gray creatures in the midst of all this black and tan and gray. In all, we burned up more than 40 gallons of extra hi-test AvGas. And we saw nothing... naturally:
"This is probably the very best camoflage job that Mother Nature has," said Dave. "And that's what we've got to try and find this stuff in."
Which is why we were unable to see even one snake.
The airboat ride was great though.