Robert Hitt Neill column 6-26-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three-part snake showed fortitude until the end

Both regular readers of this weekly syndicated column will know that I am a great respecter of snakes.

I can admire their beauty and slitheryness from aclose or afar, then without a twinge of guilt quickly dispatch the ones who need terminating when the miration is over. I do not believe in killing harmless ones, although a large non-poisonous snake can make you hurt yourself, just by appearing at close quarters unexpectedly, so those are legitimate targets, as are the poisonous ones.

I have been struck three times by those (two cottonmouths and a copperhead), and I know first-hand the effects of such a strike, and the lingering after-effects.

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There is a small body of water out here at Brownspur which in a hot dry summer may be briefly visited by mainly watersnakes, until they painfully realize that the cool waters they have ventured in unto are saturated with chlorine, which obviously has a burning effect on their long slim bodies.  

Last week, I observed such an unwelcome visitor forced into those waters by a mockingbird; indeed, I saw the bird long before I saw what it was swooping after. Not sure what the snake had done to arouse the mocker’s ire, but wherever it raised its head, that got pecked. The serpent headed for the nearest cover, which happened to be our Swimming Hole, and slithered in.

This was a long snake – over five feet – and it therefore had much more body to be burned than a small snake. I had never before seen a snake swim with nearly two feet of its head and neck out of the water, but I was seeing it now!

The mockingbird was also apparently impressed, for it left off its harassment, as its victim ducked under the high dive deck, then swung itself up onto a crossbeam, out of the irritating water, safe from the bird.

Aha, but not safe from the effects of a 12-gauge shotgun, into which I had pumped a shell and advanced to the low deck, from where I fired and knocked the troubled slitherer from its perch. It tried to squirm up into some cypress knees behind the jumping tree, but I was already pumping a second shell and trotting around the water hole.  

Sure enough, I glimpsed a foot of tail sticking out into the open, and shot to remove that, surprised when it disappeared, following its owner. However, the wound obviously opened more flesh for the chlorine to attack, so the poor snake (I was feeling sorry for it by now; I mean, I should have at least shot the mockingbird, too!) had to surface and try to head out of the water, but it was at a point where I had knelt to look under the deck, and I fired at close range in self defense, apparently removing the remaining snake about ten inches behind the head.  

The dying serpent writhed away into the water, too deep for the rake I grabbed to try to remove it from the pool. “It’ll float up soon,” I assured myself.

Which is exactly what happened, and this is kind of gruesome, so drop out now if you’ve got a weak stomach and can’t watch today’s cop shows on TV.

One of the cottonmouths that struck me was when Brer Beau and I were using machetes to trim low branches from the trees around the old pasture where we had planned to dove hunt when the season opened.  

As I raised my weapon to whack a branch, Beau yelled, “Snake!  Behind you!” I converted my swing into a turning motion, and glimpsed a three-foot moccasin starting its strike at my foot, but the turning raised the boot heel, so that the fangs sunk into the leather. As the snake withdrew to recoil, I swung the cane knife and cut it slap in two, about eight inches behind its head. And the head, with only eight inches of body, charged me!

I finished it off, but I ended up burning those boots!

Today’s snake subject came crawling out of that burning water – in three pieces! First was the ten inches of head and neck, then a slim piece of skin dragging about three feet of body, then a second slim piece of skin, dragging the nearly shot-off foot of tail!

Not possible – but I witnessed it, and mercifully ended its struggles. It was of course not poisonous, but what fortitude, to keep on trying!