In the Wild
In the 1957
book Snakes and
Snake Hunting, Staten Island Zoo curator Carl Kauffeld described
his adventures on the Okeetee Hunt Club in Jasper County, South
Carolina. He walked forests of Okeetee in the spring time and
looked for burned out stumps and the roots of hurricane felled trees
(which he called simply "hurricanes") in search of snakes. Snakes he did
find. He recounted encounters with eastern diamondback rattlesnakes,
canebrake rattlesnakes, eastern
king snakes, and others. In spite of the impressive list of sought after
snakes species, it is his description of the beautifully colored corn
snakes of this region that may have inspired more snake enthusiasts than
any other species.
flatwoods on the Okeetee Hunt Club
Kauffeld's accounts led many to follow in his
footsteps, snake hunting on what became known as the "hallowed grounds" of Okeetee.
Snake hunters descended on the area each spring. In addition to the hunt
club land itself, they found fertile hunting grounds around dilapidated buildings.
Tin sheets from the roofs of old farm houses and barns were scattered
about on the edges of fields. It
truly was a snake hunter's paradise. But, as the old saying goes, all
good things must come to an end. The local people (gritty home
spun southerners) grew tired of out-of-towners (many of which qualified
as "yankees" as their locality origins lay north of the Mason-Dixon
line) tromping all over the countryside of Jasper County. "No Trespassing"
signs began to appear and eventually the "hallowed grounds" of Okeetee
were also closed off to snake hunters.
years ago, I made my first trip to Jasper County with my friends Bill
Love and Anthony Flanagan. Having heard that the habitat of the Okeetee
Hunt Club itself had changed, and not wishing to attract unwanted
negative attention by venturing onto the land itself, I was more
concerned with getting a general feel for the area and learning the best
techniques for finding snakes there in the modern age. We crisscrossed
the area on dirt and paved roads and found parcels of hunt club land
scattered across the county. Many would be surprised to learn that the Okeetee Club is not just one tract of land in one location.
Major roads divide sections of the club. On the
way, we found tin sheets here and there, though many of them were shaded
by overgrown oaks and not in the best locations for snakes. On our first
day we only managed to locate a few of the less sought after species
like black racers and "greenish" rat snakes (my first one being one of
the ugliest snakes I have ever seen).
Daniel Parker with
large wild Okeetee corn snake (Photo
by Bill Love)
On the second day, we finally
located a few ideal looking tin sites, with well weathered sheets of tin
dotting grassy fields. No sooner had Anthony started to flip a beautiful
stack of corrugated metal than he was holding up three big snakes, a
black racer and two of the most impressive wild corn snakes that I had
ever seen. They made our typical Florida corn snake look puny by
comparison. We found several more tin sites, each one as mouth watering
as the next (at least to a group of snake nerds). We managed to find
several beautiful canebrakes and more corn snakes. Satisfied with our
initial scouting trip to the area, we headed on to other regions of the
old south, confident that we could return to Jasper County and easily
repeat or exceed our success on a future trip. Several return trips to
the area were disappointing. One after another, the tin spots seemed to
have disappeared. This was part of an
epidemic of scrap metal collection that eliminated hundreds of snake
hunting spots across the south. In recent years, we have found it easier
just to make trips in times of the year when the snakes are out on the
move. Florida style road cruising has served us very well.
Daniel Parker with
corn snake found under tin at a perfect looking abandoned shack. This
building has since been bulldozed and the tin removed.
(Photo by Bill Love)