MORRIS — This year’s Rattlesnake Round-up here seemed busier than ever and drawing snake hunters from near and far.
Among those hunting the venomous buzzers was a group from Yuma, Ariz. Jacob “JJ” Negrete and Jonathan Guillen traveled from their southwestern home with Don Willits and his son, Noah. Willits, a police officer in Yuma, was born and raised in Jersey Shore, has been hunting rattlesnakes since his youth and continues to hunt diamondbacks in his adopted state. He invited the two young men and others to join him at Morris.
The group arrived Wednesday morning before the hunt, picked up licenses to hunt the pit vipers on Friday, and took to the hills surrounding English Center Saturday morning.
“He’s like a natural,” said Willits referring to Negrete, who won the plaque for the longest yellow phase rattler with a 53-inch snake. “He’s spotting them all over.”
Hunting was slow in the coolness of the early morning, but the snakes became more active by 11 a.m.
Guillen, however, said the experience involved “too much walking” and exclaimed “What?” when told the group would return their catch that same day.
But he said the Morris area was beautiful and “looks a lot like what I think Hawaii would look like.”
Noah, 14, also caught a rattlesnake, a 48-inch yellow phase. He hunts diamondback rattlers with his dad in Arizona.
“I like it because you get to see snakes,” he said.
The group planned to see more Pennsylvania sights and relax before catching a flight to Arizona Wednesday morning.
Amos and JoAnn Osborn, who have worked in the rattlesnake pit for 62 years, said that 2021 is the final year. JoAnn tracks the licenses and records the length, weight, color and details of the each snake brought in to the Morris pit.
Amos assists with the paperwork and cutting colorful yarn that is used to identify the snakes left in the pit overnight. He was a familiar sight in the pit for many years, helping to weigh and measure the snakes.
He was bitten twice by the snakes, retiring as a snake handler after the second bite but continuing to lend a hand in the pit with his wife.
Hunters came from Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado and Arizona. Winners of the longest snakes caught at the Morris Rattle Snake Round-up are:
- Black phase: Steven Townsend, 54 inches, and runner-up Tyler Knapp, 52 inches and weighing 3 pounds, 5.4 ounces.
- Yellow phase: Jacob Negrete, 53 inches, and runner-up Stephen Eisenhower, 48 ¾ inches.