By Land Line staff
You can’t be a trucker for very long without becoming familiar with scales - especially a bulk hauler like OOIDA member Ken Becker.
Becker has been trucking since 1974. The bulk hauler out of Montgomery, TX, hauls everything from bulk feed and seed to construction materials during the week. And much like any other trucker, he spends a fair amount of that time behind the wheel at the scales.
But his close proximity to scales doesn’t stop in his off time. Becker deals with a lot of scales, whether he’s on Line 3 or Line 1 - it’s just that the scales in his Line 1 hours come with rattles attached.
Becker’s boyhood hometown of Okeene, OK, is home to the country’s oldest rattlesnake roundup, which celebrated its 65th year this summer. The trucker has been actively involved in the roundup for the past 20 years. But his love for rattlesnake hunting started long before that.
Becker was in his early teens when he was invited to go on his first snake hunt.
“I was really excited about that,” he said.
Rookies are teamed up with seasoned hunters on the first few outings. And the routine includes an initiation of sorts.
“Went to the gyp hills south of Okeene,” Becker said. “I didn’t have a catcher or anything, so all I did was help hold the sack and carry the sack.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said with a laugh, “and that’s the newbie’s job.”
“I was about 15 when I got to go hunting for the first time there in Okeene, OK, where I was born and raised. Shoot, it just stuck with me like a lot of youngsters in that area. I’ve just pursued it ever since then.”
Becker was hooked. He saved up his money and bought a snake catcher - a three-to-four-foot long pincher device designed to aid in the capture of rattlesnakes - and hooked up with people who had been hunting rattlers for many years.
While some might wonder exactly what draws Becker to hunting rattlers, the answer is simple: exhilaration.
Walking through the rocks and grass of the Oklahoma prairies around the gypsum rock formations on the hunt for the sometimes more than 6-foot-long rattlesnakes gets the blood pumping.
“You round the corner and there lays a big ol’ rattlesnake sunning on a gyp rock out there in the gyp hills,” Becker said. “It’s exhilarating when you get one caught and sacked up. But there could be several other snakes around - and after you catch one you hear the buzzing all around you.”
The rattlesnake hunts usually involve a group of people heading out to the gypsum rock formations west of Okeene, Becker said.
“We’ll climb to the rock ridge. We’ll have someone on top of the rock ridge looking down, then we’ll have someone walkin’ the sides of the hill looking up,” Becker said.
The time of day and the heat of the day will determine where the group will hunt. For example, earlier in the year hunters will head out in the afternoon when the sun is hitting to catch the snakes sunning.
Despite the fact that the excitement of the hunt produces a rush of adrenaline, the reality of venom - poison - does not go unrecognized by Becker.
“Yeah it’s dangerous,” Becker said. “Any snake can bite you, and in the case of the rattlesnake - they are venomous. And you don’t know how allergic you are to rattlesnake venom until you get bit - so I’d prefer I don’t ever get bit.”
Becker went on to say he has not been bitten, but that’s not the case with everyone who participates in roundups.
“I don’t play with them (snakes) like those guys who have been bit,” he said.
And play with them they do.
Many of the rattlesnake roundups, including the Okeene Rattlesnake Round-Up, have a bin of snakes where “snake handlers” show off for the crowds. Okeene calls it the “Den of Death.”
Handlers will walk among the loose snakes and - as the name implies - handle the snakes, putting them through the paces for the onlookers.
The average rattlesnake roundup in Okeene collects anywhere from 300 to 1,000 pounds of snakes. Snakes less than 30 inches long must be released, according to Becker, to allow them to stay out there to feed, grow and reproduce.
The average length rounded up locally at the Okeene hunt is somewhere between 30 and 40 inches. But this year’s winning snake topped out at 72 inches.
The Okeene Rattlesnake Round-Up boasts a professional division where any rattler can be entered. The biggest snake caught was in the pro division and came in at 84 inches - that’s 7 feet long. This year’s winning snake in the pro division was 81 inches long.
Becker’s personal goal has been to catch a snake that is 72 inches long - and it will go up on his wall. To date, his biggest catch has measured at 60 inches.
Each spring, Becker finds himself busy helping to plan and set up the Okeene Rattlesnake Round-Up. The community-wide event sports everything from carnival rides to rattlesnake dinners. And if you’re looking for souvenirs, you can find everything from belts and boots to snakeskin key fobs.
When not helping plan and set up the annual spring event in Okeene, Becker does try to hunt any chance he gets when he’s out on the road, and he might not be too hard to spot because there probably won’t be too many other people around.
“I’ll see a sign saying to watch for rattlesnakes and I head out,” Becker said.