Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.
Each Spring, avid rattlesnake hunters and handlers gather in Mangum, Oklahoma for the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. The event began in 1966 when the Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association organized the first weekend-long derby to hunt, measure and cook the reptiles. Each year, a crowd of approximately 30,000 hunters and spectators gathers to take part.
The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held near the end of April, includes a wide range of snake-related activities, music, contests and food. Visitors come to watch snake handlers, eat at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” or enter the snake pit and try to find the longest “rattler” and win the derby. There’s also carnival rides, one of the largest flea markets in the state, live music by regional musicians and a royalty contest.
Want to know more about this crazy snake shindig in Southern Oklahoma? Keep reading below.
The highlight of each year’s Derby is the Longest Snake Contest. Rattlesnake hunters explore the southwestern Oklahoma hills and countryside seeking the longest and heaviest snakes to win cash awards and trophies. Hunters must register for the guided hunts and attend a safety course. Measuring and weighing of the live snakes often requires four men to hold the dangerous reptiles during the process. Snakes at this Oklahoma event routinely measure in excess of six feet long.
Young women who attend high school in Greer County also compete for the coveted title of “Miss Derby Princess” winning not only gifts and cash awards, but also a college scholarship. The winner must be brave enough to pose for a photo with the winner of the “Longest Snake” contest
Meanwhile at the Snake Pit, two handlers stand inside a ring with over a hundred rattlesnakes slithering around their feet. While one handler entertains the crowd by actively working with the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, the other educates the crowds about the art of “charming” snakes and facts about the elusive and deadly creatures.
Another highlight of the weekend is the “Butcher Shop Show” where spectators not only watch a snake being prepared for the fryer, but also learn about the delicacy of serpentine meat. The show may be a bit too gory for children and those who flinch at the sight of blood, but it is as entertaining as it is educational. Even in death, a rattlesnake is still deadly and must be handled with extreme caution. After skinning the rattlesnake and removing the head, the butcher demonstrates how the deadly jaws have one final bite left by using a hat or scarf from an audience member.
While some spectators believe that snake tastes a lot like chicken, patrons at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” can cast their own vote as to the flavor of serpentine cuisine. Volunteers from the Mangum Mounties Association batter slices of rattlesnake from the butcher shop and fry the meat for anxiously awaiting customers.
Some have decried the butchering practices as inhumane towards the snakes. The Derby Association addresses these questions on its website, indicating that the snakes are “dispatched according to acceptable commercial practices” and that by holding the festival, they hope to “correct modern misconceptions about the rattlesnake.”
Whether you’re watching rattlesnakes get measured, learning about them at the snake pit, or eating one after its been deep fried, visitors to the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby are sure to come away with a unique understanding of these amazing creatures.