MIAMI — Bolstered by a harrowing tale of wrestling with a 14-footer, three Fort Myers buddies won the top general categories in Florida’s heavily publicized Python Challenge.
Dubbing their team “Is That a Snake In Your Pants?,” Paul Shannon, Jake Carner and Brian Barrows spent six days on the challenge, going to Conservation Area 3A west of Weston, a four-hour round-trip drive from their Fort Myers homes.
At a news conference Saturday at Zoo Miami at which challenge results were announced, Shannon, Carner and Barrows told about their greatest catch:
They were walking along the shoreline of a tree island about 2 one afternoon. Shannon looked back to see that a foot of mud had fallen off a long python that was slithering through the slime. Shannon drew a Judge pistol that uses .410 shotgun shells and shot, apparently grazing the beast. As he stopped to reload, Carner grabbed the python to pull it out of the mud. The snake’s head swung around and lunged at him. Carner fell back into the bushes.
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The python coiled again, getting ready to strike. “This was seriously intense,” said Shannon. “Its girth must have been at least 2 feet.”
Shannon then shot it twice in the head.
The team won $1,000 for its 14-foot, 3-inch python and Barrows was awarded $1,500 for catching the most pythons — six — in the general category.
The three were among the 1,600 registered competitors from 38 states and Canada to take part in the hunt. Organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the competition was intended to raise awareness about the dangers of outside species invading the state, and it did that, drawing national news coverage. Even Sen. Bill Nelson took time out for some python hunting.
It wasn’t an easy task. The final count was 68 pythons caught during the monthlong contest, meaning that more than 95 percent of contestants trekked through the Everglades without bagging anything.
Ruben Ramirez, of Miami, a veteran hunter, won the python permit-holders competition by “harvesting” — the phrase used by the organizers — 18 pythons. He also led permit holders with the longest python — 10 feet, 6.8 inches.
Ramirez, 40, said he worked with a team, Florida Python Hunters. He and his colleagues hunted for 27 of the 31 days of the competition, spending $2,500 on fuel and food, to nab their 18 pythons, he said.
His team won $1,500 for the permit holders’ most catches and an additional $1,000 for the longest.