Last week I attended my 39th KHSAA State Basketball Tournament. My wife and I drove up to Lexington see the Hopkinsville game on Friday night. Many of the old Trigg County state tourney crew have either passed away or were out of pocket and couldn’t attend this year. One of the traditional crew that made it was George Radford. On Saturday George called me and said he had met a wonderful couple and they had given him a couple of tickets to Saturday night’s semi-finals. He wanted to know if I could use one. I said sure and we planned on meeting outside Rupp Arena before the game. I met George and we entered Rupp and walked down to sit in the seats the couple had given us. The seats were five rows off the floor at mid-court. Great seats! The couple that had given us the tickets were also sitting right next to where we were. Therefore it was just a matter of seconds before I met Johnny and Judy Phelps. As you might can imagine it was only a matter of minutes before I had a new friend. Let me tell you about this new friend of mine.
Johnny is a tall fellow, standing about six foot three who will turn 61 on April 8th. He hails from Laurel County where he played basketball for the old London High School for two years and then the new consolidated Laurel County for two more. Johnny then made his career in law enforcement. He worked for the Laurel County sheriff’s department for 5 years and then spent 24 years as a Kentucky State Trooper. As we talked Johnny invited George and I to come up and see him in Laurel County. He said, “I want you fellows to come and visit us in Laurel County. We will play golf and then go out on our boat and I will grill you some steaks. Then we will go hunting and you can spend the night on the boat.” I replied, “Now wait a minute, did you say we are going to go hunting after we grill steaks? What are we going to hunt at night? Johnny said, “Snakes.” That is where this fellow became even more intriguing.
As it turns out Johnny and a couple of his buddies are passionate snake hunters. They go out on remote gravel roads in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains there in Laurel County. On sultry, sticky summer nights snakes will be on the move. The mountain air cools considerably at night and when the snakes cross a gravel road they tend to lie there a while and soak up some of the heat. Johnny and his crew roam the roads and spot the snakes. Then they jump out of the truck and hit them in the head with a stick. Two summers ago they killed 199 poisonous snakes and last summer they got 164. Ninety eight percent of the snakes they kill are copperheads and the remaining ones are rattlesnakes. Johnny also said, “While we are snake hunting we often see deer, bobcats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and even black bear.”
One night Johnny’s vehicle was slowly moving down a remote mountain road when they saw car lights approaching. Johnny watched as the car stopped and two teenage girls along with two teenage boys piled out of the car. The girls had particularly long hair, even down below their waist. The teens were wearing flip-flops. One girl held a bag as the other swept a big copperhead into it. Johnny recalled that he asked the girls what they were doing. One of the girls said, “We are catching snakes. We are going to take them home and feed them. We will give you $25 for any rattlesnakes you can catch and $20 for copperheads.” Johnny declined the offer. He suspected that the teens belonged to a snake handling church. You see Laurel County is just two counties away from Bell County. Bell County just happens to be where the preacher died a few weeks ago from a rattlesnake bite he received while handling the serpent at church. Johnny said there was no way he was going to sell a snake to some kids who might eventually get hurt or worse by handling it.
Johnny and his buddies seem to have nearly perfected the art of snake hunting. They began when they were teens their selves. They would ride on the hood of a car with a rope tied to the wing glass. When they saw a snake the driver would stop and they would hold on to the rope to keep from being thrown off the hood. They would then hop down and shoot the snake. As I said above they have now graduated to sticks instead of guns. Anyway I saw enough pictures of the venomous snakes they have killed to believe that Johnny knows what he is doing. Neither he nor none of his crew has ever been bit.
Some of the local people appreciate the killing of the copperheads especially. A lady recently walked into the local State Farm office and asked Johnny’s wife, who is an agent there, if her husband was the snake hunter. The inquiring lady said, “I appreciate him so much for getting rid of some of the copperheads in our neighborhood that I am going to move my insurance to you folks.” Man that has got to put a lot of pressure on the folks at All State, Farm Bureau and other agencies.
So sometime this summer I hope to being you a story about the adventures of George and I playing golf in Laurel County, eating steaks on Johnny’s 94 foot houseboat and then just maybe thumping a snake or two in the head. Now does that sound like fun or what?
By the way if George backs out, I may need another partner to go with me. Any takers? Come to think of it if we both back out...............
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.