The Snake Guys: ridding Kern County of rattlesnakes

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There’s a group of six friends in Bear Valley who spend their retirement wrangling rattlesnakes.

They’re called The Snake Guys–five men and one woman, most of them former sheriffs and firefighters. Now, they serve as a different kind of first responder, on call 24-7.

“We kind of run our own dispatch center by word of mouth and cell phone,” said Ron Hayton, who established the group nearly 30 years ago.

“You could be tired, and then all of a sudden that call comes on your cell phone–and boom, the adrenaline pumps,” said Key Budge, who used to work for the LA County Sheriff’s office. “It’s like getting a call for service for being a cop or being a fireman.”

The guys catch more than 100 snakes each year, and they’re so efficient, the Tehachapi Fire Department even called them to take care of a rattlesnake call.

“Since we’re all self-funded, we pay for everything ourselves,” Hayton explained. “We can’t afford to be driving around and not catch anything.”

What the snake guys don’t get in donations comes out of their own pockets–adding up to a few thousand each year. Still, they insist on giving their service for free.

“If you tell somebody you’re gonna charge them to come out and pick the snake, they say, ‘well nevermind, I’ll just kill it.’ that’s the people that get bit,” Hayton said.

The guys also emphasize a no-kill policy. They relocate the snakes to a rural area far enough that they won’t return. But that’s also an added cost–they have to feed the animals until they’re relocated.

“They’re an important part of the ecosystem–they eat rodents. So if we can relocate them to another place to help take care of the problem, then that’s less chance that these diseases can come into human contact,” Budge said.

Catching a rattlesnake is an art. The key is not to surprise them. With special tongs, the guys hook the snake in the middle, then delicately place them into a deep bucket.

“You make the area safe for that person because that’s the most important at that time for that person,” Budge said.

The guys share their sensible precautions. Snakes like to find shelter in cool places, hiding under rocks, logs, and tree trunks. So, never put your hands where you can’t see them. Wear boots when walking through brush. Keep your doors closed and porches screened–so snakes won’t make themselves at home in your home.

If you come in contact with a rattlesnake, do not try to handle it on your own. Call The Snake Guys at 203-4468. If you are bitten, call 911.

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