Snake Handler Holds Rattlers and Records

Jul 25, 2008
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ALISON STEWART, host:

Here's a sampling of world records held by the Texas snake man, Jackie Bibby. Most rattlesnakes suspended by tails from his mouth? Eleven. Sitting in a bathtub with the most rattlesnakes? Eighty-seven. Sharing a sleeping bag with the most rattlesnakes? One hundred and 12. Sharing a sleeping bag - head first - with the most rattlesnakes, that's a different record. It's 30.

He holds - he also holds the world record in the sport of rattlesnake sacking. It's a two-man sport that is pretty much what it sounds like. He and his partner got 10 rattlesnakes into a sack in just over 17 seconds. He has dominated the event for almost four decades. Now, Rachel Martin and I talked with him the day before this year's National Rattlesnake Sacking Championships, and he said he wasn't sure if he'd be sacking this time around, nothing left to prove. We asked him how the sport works.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

(Soundbite of NPR's The Bryant Park Project, April 4, 2008)

RACHEL MARTIN: Describe that partnership between the guy who's pinning down the snakes and the guy who's holding the sack.

Mr. JACKIE BIBBY (Rattlesnake Sacking Champion): Well, the one who's picking the snakes up is called the pinner, and the one who's holding the sack is called the sacker.

MARTIN: There you go. That's logical.

Mr. BIBBY: Yes. And it's very important that you have an individual sacking for you that you trust and that knows what he's doing, because that individual has to block snakes. He has to talk to you about where the snakes are. He has to help you go through the process of getting through the snakes. So, this is a timed event, so, you know, you've got to be moving rapidly. And any time you move rapidly in conjunction with rattlesnakes, you're going to get a lot of bites. And rattlesnake bites are nothing nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Have you - I'll ask you about that in a minute, but let's talk about your record, less than two seconds a snake. Seems like you'd have to be able to predict what snakes are going to do and how you do this. You have some kind of sixth-snake sensibility?

Mr. BIBBY: Well, I'd like to think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIBBY: I've been doing this for a long time. And part of it is luck of the draw, just like any other timed event, if it were calf roping, or anything else, where you - it's a timed event. The snakes that you draw, because you have no idea of what 10 snakes will be in your bag, because you're handed a bag of snakes out of a pile that's been sacked up somewhere else. And then you have two minutes, with four judges, to arrange the snakes in a way that you want them to be in, before you begin.

At the end of two minutes, they shoot off a gun, and you have to go. If you're ready, you raise your hand, and when you drop your hand, they shoot off the gun. Because you have to immobilize the snake's head with a pinner prior to picking him up. If you don't do that properly, you get a five-second penalty. If you are bitten by one of the snakes, you also get a five-second penalty.

MARTIN: Wait, if you get bit you get a penalty? Isn't being bitten punishment enough?

Mr. BIBBY: No, ma'am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Apparently not when you're sacking rattlesnakes.

MARTIN: How often have you been bit, Mr. Bibby?

Mr. BIBBY: Well, I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've been bit eight times seriously enough to require hospitalization.

STEWART: Oh.

MARTIN: And do you stop when you've been bit? Do you just say, I'm out, or do you keep going?

Mr. BIBBY: One of the worst bites I ever received, I received on Saturday, and I wouldn't go to the hospital until after I completed the contest on Sunday, because I was winning.

MARTIN: And then, finally, when are you going to make up your mind about competing? Is something - does someone egg you on and saying, come on, Jackie Bibby, I know you can't do it this year, and then you're going to say, fine, I'll do it?

Mr. BIBBY: Probably, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIBBY: It's an ego-driven sport, and I've been a thrill-seeker throughout my life. So, when the adrenaline gets to pumping, you know, I'm 57 years old, I'm bald-headed and I'm a little bit overweight, but you know, when I get in that pen and that gun goes off, I forget all that and I go to work.

STEWART: So, what happened? Did Jackie Bibby succumb to the charms of the rattlesnake pen? Well, we called him up after the competition.

(Soundbite of NPR's The Bryant Park Project, April 9, 2008)

MARTIN: Jackie, how did it go down? You showed up at the events, and you were on the...

Mr. BIBBY: Well, the adrenaline got to pumping...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIBBY: And those youngsters, you know, running around with their chests puffed out, I had to get in there and show them the old master was still able to come back.

STEWART: You do it.

MARTIN: Were they really egging you on? Or did you just say, I can't tolerate these egos?

Mr. BIBBY: Not necessarily. They really didn't want me to sack, because they knew I'd probably beat them.

STEWART: Yep, that's Jackie Bibby, Texas Snake Man, world-record holder, and once again, reigning national champion in rattlesnake sacking.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: That's it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Alison Stewart. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.