Animal Planet program mixes hunting work, competition with others.
by Cindy V. Culp
Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer.
The snake-handling prowess(I've known both of them since the late 70's and that is a word I've never heard used for either of them). of two Central Texas men soon will be highlighted on a reality show on the Animal Planet television network.
A pilot episode of "Rattlesnake Republic" aired this summer. (feck I missed it)Among the snake handlers featured were Waco resident Doug Dugger and Clifton resident Michael Herzog.
The two men have been back in front of the cameras the past few weeks as production crews filmed six more episodes in Texas. They are set to air early next year., Dugger said.
"They've had me all over this state," said Dugger, 53. "It's been a whirlwind of running and going."
The show combines typical snake hunting work with competition.
Four teams of snake handlers from across the state are vying to capture the most rattlesnakes as they complete what they consider workaday jobs, such as clearing rattlesnakes from a hunting lease or or helping a contractor get rid of snakes preventing work at a construction site.
Dugger and Herzog's team includes 60-year old Jackie Bibby of Brownwood. the three men have worked together for more than 30 years.
Dugger said he got into snake handling at age 17 after realizing there was money to be made in the sport. Back then Texas had dozens of rattlesnake roundups and contests where contestants got paid for capturing snakes.
Dugger soon teamed up with Herzog. For a while, Bibby was their competition. But, eventually the three men joined forces. They have been working together every since.
As the men became well known, they started getting invitations to do snake related stunt work, Dugger said.
They would go to fairs, parades, trade shows, and other gatherings where they would wow crowds with spine-tingling acts like crawling in a sleeping bag or bathtub of rattlesnakes.
In fact, Bobby holds several world records for snake-related stunts. Dugger and Herzog helped facilitate them.
TV SHOWS AND MOVIE SETS
The men also have been featured on a number of television shows, ranging from the "Chevy Chase Show" to "Those Amazing Animals," with Priscilla Presley.
They also have helped on movie sets, including the 2006 feature "Snakes on a Plane," Dugger said.
"I've always supplemented my income with rattlesnakes," said Dugger, who was employed at the local Tyco Healthcare diaper plant and Mars Chocolate North American before retiring in 2008. "I'm by no means a rich man, but we're comfortable."
Dugger and Herzog said the most difficult thing about the reality show has been the exhausting filming schedule. They have ping-ponged across the state in recent weeks to take on jobs.
Other than that, the only difficulty the men have encountered while filming is occasionally having to work around cameras or crew members as the capture snakes, they said.
"I'm not acting," Dugger said. "I'm just being myself. (oh man..brace yourself)When we're there with the snakes, basically the cameras all all have left our mind.
FEARLESS OF SERPENTS
Herzog agreed. Occasionally, a crew member has tried to coax him into looking a little more frightened as he grabs, throws or otherwise wrangles the snakes. But he explained his fear of the serpents vanished years ago. (I can vouch for that..I've never seen them look scared, or worried. They are good at their job. They look like their concentrating, but that's about it.)
The men said they are amused by the rough-and tough cowboy image the production crews have of them.
"They're from Calif and New York," said Herzog, 56, who is a retired concrete truck driver."They're like, 'Boy, we've met some Texans now.' They don't know what to think.
"But now we have them saying words they didn't even know."
The jobs featured on the show are legitimate. Dugger said. Because there is a limited number of snake handlers in the state and the men have been doing it for so long. It's not unusual for them to get calls from people in other areas who need rattlesnake help, he said.
Generally, on such jobs the men are reimbursed for their travel expenses, then get to keep the snakes they catch, Dugger said. They then sell the snakes---alive---to dealers.
Some dealers butcher them and sell the mat as a delicacy. Others milk thier venom for research purposes. The skin and rattles can also be used to make accessories such as belts and earrings.
Plus, some are preserved by taxidermists for display, Dugger said.
"There's no waste to a rattlesnake," he said.
HAZARDS OF THE JOB
the two men said they are always cognizant of the danger rattlesnakes pose. Both have been bitten. Dugger, for example, has been hospitalized five times.
But snakes are not as vicious as most people think, Dugger said.
"Rattlesnakes strike for two reasons---fear and food," Dugger said. "And we're too big for them to eat."
For now, the men have no plans of retiring from rattlesnake work. Whether the show develops into something longer-term or not, they are confident they will always have more than enough offers from people who want to see them wrangle the serpents.
"Everybody is afraid of them," Dugger said."But they want to see them."
I have posted a ton of rattlesnake roundup pictures. I'll have to find them and post them again to go with this post. I'm also thinking I should ask Kathy if the oldies would like to see a Snake Show...hmmm...
Oh, and I'm not positive it was Jackie Bibby or not..but I think it was..who one year was doing the snake under the cowboy trick..They take it and let it cool down and they put it into a small coil and they tuck the head of the snake in the coils..then put it on their head and put the hat on..walk around bigger than daylight with a fucking rattlesnake on their head under their hat..then they'll find some unsuspecting schmuck(was me once) and tip their hat and freak them out. Well once the snake woke up and bit the dude on top of his bald head. Served him right..scared the crap out of me when he did it..my friend Jimmy Maler had little pointy toed cowboy boot prints across the back of his shirt from me hauling my ass out of there.Now to find the pictures. Ok..I found them..but will post them separately..