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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

I love all animals, with only two exceptions: rattlesnakes and cats. Rattlesnakes are deadly serpents sent by the Devil, and cats are just annoying balls of fur.

As kids, we went to a ranch owned by a bar buddy of my dad’s that was infested with rattlers. We went to Yale T Richardson’s ranch to cut firewood and to shoot at beer cans with a 22 rifle that my brother and I owned in partnership. It was drummed into my empty head before going to Yale T’s that rattlesnakes should be killed every chance you got. If you saw one by the side of the road you always stopped to chop its head off with a shovel carried specifically for that purpose.

There were plenty of beer cans at Yale T’s, but I remember being very disappointed that I never came face to face with a rattlesnake because I wanted to test a theory I’d heard that said if you point a rifle at a rattler, you couldn’t miss because the snake will look at the end of the gun and follow it with its eerie eyes. This is supposedly why snake charmers play a clarinet-like instrument called a “pungi” because the snake will be mesmerized and follow the musical instrument with its head. As part of my research, I tried to get my sister to play her clarinet in front of one of Yale T’s rattlers, but she wasn’t willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of science.


I paid for my college education by working in the dry, dusty oilfields, which were known for two things: being extremely hot and harboring a sizable snake population. On my first day, I was told that since we’d be working close to the “doghouse” at headquarters, I could just leave my Roy Rogers lunch bucket there. The fact that someone even acknowledged my existence should have been a red flag, but I was greener than a gourd and didn’t yet appreciate how mean roughnecks, roustabouts, pumpers, and mechanics could be. When I opened my lunch bucket, instead of finding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Twinkie, I stared straight into the beady eyes of a coiled rattlesnake.

How was I supposed to know it was dead?

Ha, ha, very funny, guys.

Later in the week, I attended my first “safety meeting,” where I was handed my very own rattlesnake kit, which we were instructed to carry with us at all times. Basically, it was a rubber tube that when pulled apart revealed a razor sharp blade and a suction cup with which to suck out the venom. I was told that I’d need to make a deep “X” cut through the fang marks left by the rattler. I’ve always wondered if I’d have had the courage to do such a thing or if I’d just be a sissy and die.

I’ve lived virtually my entire life in rattlesnake country and I kill about one per year. My wife likes to garden and I’m afraid she’ll be bit by one, so I gave her my rattlesnake kit and a pair of catcher’s shin guards for protection.

Because I live in California and cannot buy snake skins legally, my friends often bring me rattlesnake skins which I incorporate into my leather work. One neighbor brought me a skin five feet long with the diameter of a big log, with which I made him a belt and two water bottles. But before I did that, I put the skin to good use.

I have an acquaintance who I think is a closet PETA member who always wants to borrow my tools that he never returns. Despite my kindness, he never hesitates to tell people that I’m evil because I chop the heads off rattlesnakes. When he called up wanting to borrow a leather hole punch, I harkened back to my doghouse days. I wrapped my neighbor’s huge snakeskin in a coil and placed it in a toolbox. Then when the leach arrived, I acted busy and told him that the hole punch was in the toolbox on my workbench. As he opened the toolbox, I rattled a plastic butter container full of pebbles, and as he ran out of my garage at a world record-setting pace, I yelled, “Hey, you forgot the hole punch.”