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Python Hunting with Devin and Blake

By Oscar Corral
Two years ago Blake Russ and Devin Bellison made an unlikely discovery about each other: their mutual fascination with catching snakes.
Not just any slithery fellow. They have a penchant for hunting massive, deadly Burmese pythons, with their bare hands. At night.
How two young mormons came together later in life to become front line soldiers in the war to keep invasive species from destroying the Everglades is a lesson in destiny. They met through their wives, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Miami.
A year later they were champions of a state-sponsored competition to catch pythons over a one-month stretch. They caught the biggest one, upstaging skilled competitors and Gladesmen who had been at it for far more years.
Bellison, a biology teacher at Miami’s Edison High School, says his secret is cruising the roads, keeping an eye out for pythons warming up with sun and the asphalt.
One recent rainy night hunt, Bellison steered his economical Chevy Cruze down a dirt embankment. His front spoiler rubbed the rocks. Who says you need a 4 x 4 to hunt in the Everglades?
“Whoa, you got it!” says Russ, riding shotgun, beaming a powerful flashlight into the brush lining the dirt road.
Russ, a construction management major student at the University of Florida, has driven down for the weekend for a night hunt, the last of the season. Once winter sets in, the strategy shifts. Snakes won’t seek the open roads at night any more. Instead, they’ll expose themselves on roads after cold fronts.
The friends have had their best luck creeping along Everglades roads at night, looking out for anomalies in the bushes: a pattern slightly off, discoloration in the grass, a scaly glint. Sometimes the pythons are out in the open and get run over.
They decide to go on by foot, climbing down a 15-foot road shoulder made of boulders, where creatures lurk in the crevices, masked by tall grass. The boulders lead down to a 20-foot wide flat bank on the edge of a canal, where alligators nest in the reeds and grass.
The walk along the water’s edge in the dark, with the occasional sound of disturbances in underbrush, raises the question: are they hunting or being hunted.
They carry no weapons, no shotguns or machete. Just sneakers, t-shirts, flashlights, and courage. They don’t kill the snakes. They jam them into pillowcases and hand them over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which regulates python hunting permits in Florida.
Like many hunters, Bellison and Russ express frustration with the overlapping regulatory policies of FWC, The Department of the Interior, South Florida Water Management, and Everglades National Park. They complain that they can’t hunt inside the national park, where the snakes are believed to be most prevalent. FWC also cut off access recently to the concrete embankments along many of the Glades waterways, where the snakes tan in winter.
For now, Russ and Bellison are happy to continue the hunt, whether it’s making an impact or not.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Russ said. “I love the sense of adventure.”

  • by admin
  • posted at 1:32 pm
  • November 12, 2013

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