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Tom Germond
Beware the harvest, Mr. He-coon
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Every gun-toting, beer-swigging, fun-loving yeehaw from here to Boll Weevil, South Carolina, soon will be descending upon South Florida in pursuit of the $1,500 grand prize for harvesting the most Burmese pythons.

Harvesting, by the way, means killing.

“The old he-coon walks just before the light of day,” the late former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles said years ago.

If I were a he-coon living in the Everglades, I’d high-tail it the hell out of there.

We’ll discuss the he-coon later; first, let’s deal with big snakes.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will launch its Python Challenge Jan. 12 in Fort Lauderdale.

As you probably know Florida’s Burmese pythons are a menacing species – even worst than the snakes in Tallahassee – and some grow so big they’ll eat just about anything easier to swallow than an air boat.

“A Florida hunting license is not needed to participate in the harvest, but I can’t locate my “leg man.” Shucks, I was looking forward to grabbing my snake bag, rounding up my friend Canadian John, the leg man, and heading south to snag some snakes.”

As Canadian John explained to me a couple of years ago, before a similar snake hunt, African trappers have devised a technique for catching pythons. It has something to do with a tribesman sticking his leg, wrapped in towels, in a deep hole in suspected python territory. When the snake bites the tribesman’s appendage – the leg – fellow hunters yank him out of the hole, snake in tow. Then they hack the snake to bits with a machete.

John’s never around when I need him. Too bad, because I don’t think I could kill a python without the help of a leg man.

I don’t own a gun so I’m not sure that I could comply with the Conservation Commission’s ethical standards to ensure a Burmese python is killed in a humane manner, such as by blowing its brains out.

Another humane harvesting method, the commission says, is to “decapitate the python. Use a machete or other appropriately sharp tool. The tool selected should be capable of decapitating the snake as efficiently as possible.”

Guess that rules out lethal injections.

For the record, I think the Python Challenge is a good idea. As far as I’m concerned, the only good Burmese pythons are dead.

I just hope the collateral damage doesn’t include other wildlife.

Run, Bambi, run.

As for the he-coons, columnist and retired political reporter Bill Cotterell was kind enough to explain to me in an email the meaning behind Chiles’ saying.

“In his book ‘How Florida Happened,’ (Chiles’ former Lt. Gov.) Buddy MacKay solved the he-coon riddle about three years ago. He explained that the young raccoons go out at dusk and forage all night, often getting shot by hunters or eaten by other predators. The wise old he-coon stays in his den until just before the light of day, when the hunters have gone home and other enemies are asleep,” Cotterell said. “That line came up in the last Chiles-Bush debate of 1994, when someone asked the governor about polls showing Jeb ahead of him with about a week left in the race. Chiles had closed from about 20 points down to five or six, but seemed stuck there. He was confident that he would peak at just the right time – which he did.”

Keep your wits about you, he-coons, and maybe you won’t become a victim of the Phython Challenge, which ends Feb. 16.

You don’t want to end up as headwear for some yeehaw.

Tom Germond is executive editor for Tampa Bay Newspapers.

Revised: A Florida hunting license is not needed for the Python Challenge.
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