What is a Rattlesnake Roundup and Why Everyone Should Try It Once

Our cabin is approximately 2 miles from Walnut Springs, a small town (population less than 750) 13 miles south of Glen Rose and midway between Waco and Fort Worth. The community is best known for its annual Rattlesnake Roundup, which takes place the first weekend in March. We have 10 acres west of town with a two bedroom, two bathroom log cabin. We added the full wraparound porch 3 feet off the ground so the grandkids can run, play, and be safe on our getaway.

Knowing that this is scorpion and rattlesnake country, one of the first things I bought when we bought the property was a pair of women’s 15 inch Chippewa snake boots, leather with a thick 1000 denier Cordura Viper fabric upper from my ankle to my knee. I feel safe with my snake boots.

Speaking of rattlesnakes, have you ever seen a rattlesnake roundup? We’ve always stopped by every year, bought a t-shirt, scanned the vendors, and picked up a souvenir. This year I attended my first rattlesnake roundup, where I paid a $5 ticket and went inside the snake pit arena to learn more about the snakes and supporting young people in agriculture. It freaked me out! Let’s find out more.

The snake trainer stands in the snake pit (Photo credit: Janie Pace)

What is a gathering of rattlesnakes?

The first weekend in March, Walnut Springs held its 11and Annual Rattlesnake Roundup, a Walnut Springs corporate sponsored fundraiser for youth in agriculture. For years, the community has organized a rattlesnake roundup, first started by the Lions Club and later taken up by Business for Youth in Agriculture in 2011.

This small town of less than 750 people grows to several thousand over the 3-day weekend, raising funds for young farmers and giving a boost to the local economy. Seems like a big draw for bikers.

More than 50 vendors sell barbecue, hot corn, turkey legs, sausages on a stick, cotton candy, snacks, leather goods, knives, purses and crafts. A vendor sells snakeskin belts and wallets and displays a stuffed snake and snakeheads right at the entrance to the rattlesnake arena.

There’s a barbecue, carnival, street dancing, bands, cornhole contest, campground hookups, and a dealer selling the annual Walnut Springs Rattlesnake Roundup t-shirt, koozies, and caps.

The snake handler stacks snakes on a volunteer.
Brave snake trainers stack snakes on a volunteer. (Photo credit: Janie Pace)

And every hour tickets are sold to watch the annual Rattlesnake Demonstration by daring snake trainers who sit in the den and allow the snakes to cover their legs, place them on their heads and demonstrate venom milking. An announcer speaks to the crowd about rattlesnakes, their role in the wild, being careful in the wild, recommended snakebite kits and “don’t try this at home” demonstrations.

On the first day, prizes are awarded for the most snakes caught by weight, at 49 pounds, largest snake and smallest snake. Snakes are bought and sold when the roundup is over, and the rest travel to the next roundup. These snake charmers make their rounds of eight roundups across Texas each year.

Put a snake in the Rattlesnake Roundup.
A woman pets a rattlesnake at the Rattlesnake Roundup (Photo credit: Janie Pace)

Reasons Texans love a gathering of rattlesnakes

I think the reason Texans love a Rattlesnake Roundup is the plot. I’m afraid of snakes, but I want to see snakes captured in a controlled environment where I know they can’t hurt me. My skin was crawling again!

These roundups are historically significant events in small towns and draw larger crowds than a rodeo, fair or carnival. They stimulate the economy and help raise money for charity or a community cause.

How to Visit a Rattlesnake Congregation

Most rattlesnake roundups in Texas take place in the spring, in late February and early March. Watch for promotions, plan a weekend and go. Usually there are events, kitchens, vendors selling wares, carnivals, street dancing and the intriguing snake arena with a grandstand to accommodate the crowds. On average, you will pay $5 for an admission ticket.

Since 1958, the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has become the largest and one of the oldest traditional festivals in Central Texas. A parade, carnival and Miss Snake Charmer Pageant kick off the weekend with rewards for the most snakes brought in and the largest snake.

Here you can participate in a snake-eating contest or watch snake cooking. Sweetwater is probably the most critical roundup for PETA, where they rake in around a thousand pounds of kitchen rattlers.

In mid-March, the Lone Star Expo and Rattlesnake Roundup in Brownwood promotes 3 days of food, vendor booths and rattlesnake programs.

Oglesby Lions Club Rattlesnake Roundup is a March celebration that has been around since 1969. Hunters compete for prizes for the longest and heaviest snake. Learn about snakes, frequent food and vendor stalls, and enjoy carnival rides.

Big Spring Rattlesnake Roundup, about 90 miles south of Lubbock, takes place every spring, where snake trainers go ankle-deep in a snake pit with “can you top that” demonstrations.

Diamondback Rattlesnake.
Diamondback Rattlesnake (Photo credit: Janie Pace)

Facts I Learned About Rattlesnakes

  • Rattlesnakes live throughout North and South America, with the largest population in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
  • Arizona is home to 13 species of rattlesnakes, more than any other state.
  • Rattlesnakes can range from 1 foot to 8 feet long, with a thick body and patterned black diamonds or hexagons on a lighter background with a triangular head.
  • Rattlers have heat-sensitive facial pits, jointed fangs, produce venom, and have vertical pupils like a cat’s eyes.
  • Young rattlesnakes do not yet have rattlesnakes but can be just as dangerous as adults.
  • Their rattles are a very effective warning signal. They are loosely interlocking segments of keratin at the end of a snake’s tail. When the snake holds its tail vertically and vibrates its rattle, you hear an alarming buzz or rattle. Each time a snake sheds its skin, it adds another segment to the rattle.
  • In the first half of 2021, 86 rattlesnake bites were reported to the Texas Poison Center Network, compared to 75 in the first half of 2020.
  • 28% of people bitten by a snake are intoxicated.
  • In 2020, poison control centers in Texas saw a 54% increase in snake calls, likely due to more people venturing outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On average, five Americans die each year from snakebite.
  • Bee stings and lightning kill 20 times more people each year than all rattlesnake bites combined.
  • 57% of snakebites have occurred to people handling a snake.
  • 85% of bites are on the hands and fingers.
  • Only 13% of bites occur on the legs or feet. Also, it is rare for a snake to bite above the ankle.
  • The most venomous snake in the United States is the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, with a mortality rate of 30%. It is a giant poisonous snake in North America with one of the most dangerous bites.
  • With veterinary care, up to 80% of bitten dogs will survive a snakebite.
  • Ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes, is common. Between 1988 and 2001, people feared snakes the most.
  • In 2019, people fear spiders the most, with snakes remaining just behind.
  • In colder climates, rattlesnakes hibernate through the winter in dens dug in rock crevices or holes in the ground. They can use the same shelter for years.
  • Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous; the eggs incubate inside the mother’s body and the babies are born alive, enclosed in a thin membrane which they puncture after birth.
  • Rattlers mate in the spring and summer, and the mothers can store sperm for months before fertilizing the eggs. They carry their babies for about 3 months, giving birth to 10 patella babies every 2 years. Mothers do not spend time with their young, which slip away soon after birth.
  • Rattlers can live 10 to 25 years.
  • Rattlesnakes eat about every 2 weeks, small rodents and lizards that they paralyze with a quick blow. They swallow the victim whole after the venom paralyzes the prey.
  • The most significant ongoing debate continues to be the method of gassing to collect rattlesnakes. Texas Parks and Wildlife works with snake collectors to promote safe and efficient collecting practices.
  • Snakes contribute a lot to ecosystems around the world, and we need them.
  • We must do our part to help reduce our impact on the environment and protect the reptile’s natural habitat.
The man shows the fangs of a rattlesnake.
A man shows the fangs of a rattlesnake (Photo credit: Janie Pace)

What to do if a snake bites you

  • If possible, take a quick picture of the snake to help you get the right antivenom.
  • Call 911 and while you wait, clean the wound with soapy water and cover it with a clean bandage. Remove jewelry.
  • Stay calm, stay as still as possible, and keep the bite area below your heart level to prevent the venom from spreading.
  • Dying from a snakebite after receiving antivenom is very rare, but knowing what to do in advance is a good thing.

How to avoid a snakebite?

  • I wear long pants and my snake boots and watch where I step.
  • Avoid tall grass and stay on the trail.
  • We keep the area around the cabin mowed and trimmed, so there are no convenient hiding places for snakes.
  • Never place your hand where you cannot see what is nearby when climbing.
  • If you spot a snake, keep your distance.
  • Never pick up a snake, even if you think it’s dead.

Fun fact: The opossum is a lifesaver. It can withstand up to 80 rattlesnake bites. Thanks to the opossum, there is an antidote to poisonous snake venom. In addition, they eat ticks and do not catch rabies.

After visiting a rattlesnake roundup, explore the rest of the Lone Star State: