NOXEN TWP. — A rattlesnake’s rattle sounds almost like a quieter 17-year locust or a weed-wacker running 100 yards away.
Hundreds of attendees got to hear the sound firsthand at Noxen’s 42nd annual Rattlesnake Roundup on Saturday.
Before the reptile hunters returned, Bill Wheeler, an Adams County resident and president of the Keystone Reptile Club, walked around introducing his 16-year-old timber rattlesnake — one he’s had for almost as long and one that stays calm around humans. Wheeler talked about safety around venomous snakes as a few onlookers stood outside the snake-proof, fenced-in handling area to see and touch the large but mostly bored rattler.
Noxen’s roundup, a multi-day festival with carnival rides, a beer tent and plenty of food, serves as the Noxen Volunteer Fire Co.’s primary fundraiser, longtime chief Lew Hackling said. Craft vendors also claimed their space under the department’s larger pavilion to sell handmade and novelty goods.
When the wild snakes arrived, crowds packed around the handling space as Fawne Hopfer, 16, Shane Holton, 15, and their group returned with the first catch of the day, a snake that hardly let its rattler rest and writhed in the handler’s grip. Judges, most of them fire department members, took their time measuring, weighing and checking the snake’s age.
Hopfer said she has been a snake hunter for four years, and each year her group has been successful.
Holton, a freshman snake hunter, said the trek up the mountain was tiring but, for his first run, the thought of grappling with a rattlesnake didn’t shake his nerves.
Hopfer grinned and said she was unwilling to share her hunting spot or methods. If someone were to stumble across a rattlesnake, she said, they should stay calm and leave it alone. “Don’t freak out,” Hopfer advised. “If you turn and run, just watch your step because if there’s one, there’s probably more.”
She was referring to the way the cold-blooded animals tend to nest in groups where there’s plenty of sunshine and they can stay warm.
Hunters for the two-day event will be judged on these criteria:
• The snake with the most rattles
• The heaviest snake
• The longest rattlesnake
• The longest copperhead
• The widest variety of snakes
Winners are awarded plaques.
A Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission employee was on hand to scan the rattlesnakes for tracking tags and inject tiny devices into the untagged snakes.
Wheeler said he remembered one snake that had been returned by different hunters during five different hunts, information they were able to get using the tags.
Hunters are limited to one rattlesnake per license holder, and the snake must be returned to the same spot it was found on what Wheeler called a gentleman’s agreement.
Hackling said of the 35 permit carriers competing in the event, the hunters will stay honest. “These guys are sportsmen; they’re conservationists. They want to make sure the big ones get back to the same spot so they can catch ’em again,” Hackling said.