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Update from the 2023 Florida Python Challenge

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The newly waning moon, just beginning its ascent into the blackened sky, peeked above the distant cypress trees, hanging low like a giant, golden orb, casting its pale light across the River of Grass. No wind disturbed the tops of the sawgrass, and no sound could be heard but the steady rumbling of my truck as we slowly idled along a remote levee. It was the first night of the competition. I was guiding an eclectic gathering of first-time Python hunters, each hopeful of cashing in an award-winning snake during the Florida Python Challenge 2023.

On that first night of competition, I was joined by Anne of Vero Beach, an 82-year-old adventuress; Sheila of Key West, a world traveler; and David, Jacob and Weston, a trio of adventurous fraternity brothers from Texas A&M; each of us came together after reading about the Burmese Python hunting here in The Hernando Sun. They are five of the nicest companions I could have hoped for.

A group of filmmakers who had invited me to star in a documentary about the Burmese Python invasion in South Florida joined us to complete our crew. What a hoot! You will never meet kinder and more accommodating professionals in any field, and it truly has been an honor working with or for them.

As I’m writing this, I’m preparing my team to go forth to begin night number four of Burmese Python hunting. Thus far, we’ve been unsuccessful in locating those big, invasive snakes. But I have confidence… I’ve gone as many as seven days in a row with no luck, only to ride out and pick up five on the eighth night. It’s 50% luck and 50% just getting out there!

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The cast of my crew is changing as the days pass, and at times, organizing the hunt can seem like trying to herd house cats…. Difficult. But, by maintaining our enthusiasm for removing the invasive species from our South Florida wilds, we eventually find ourselves lined out, on the hunt, with an awful lot of grins amongst us.

How I conduct the hunt is by idling on the backroads and levees throughout the periphery of the Everglades. By traveling slowly and illuminating the roadsides, we have a chance to spot a Python approaching the travel-ways, either with the intent to cross over or to stage itself along the water’s edge in hopes of ambushing a potential meal.

Once the cry, “Python!” rings out, I stop the truck and direct my fledgling Python picker-uppers into position for the safest approach and instruct the grab. Sounds easy, right? Wrong!
The weight and strength of a wild Florida Burmese Python will astound you the moment you hold one in your hands. If the grabber makes contact too far behind the snake’s head, it will reach back with its double rows of razor-sharp, rear-facing teeth and bite the pure sin right out of you.

Often, you can’t see the head in order to make that sure grab, and you’re forced to pull it out of the thick stuff by the tail. It’s best to have on your dancing shoes and possess more than a couple of lessons in ballet because you’ll find yourself ducking and dodging repeated strikes until the Python tires and the head can be brought under control.

Wish us luck as we continue our Python-hunting adventures! And as always, if you have any comments, questions, or maybe even a story to share, reach out to me at [email protected]. God Bless, and good hunting!

Toby even met a fan and future python hunter. Credit:
Toby Benoit.

Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit
Toby Benoit is a best selling novelist and professional outdoorsman with thirty-five years of experience guiding and outfitting for big game all across America. Toby is a renowned archer and turkey hunting expert who manufactures custom game calls and is a regular judge at NWTF sanctioned turkey calling events across the Southeast.
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