toby

Toby’s friend and mentor, Myron Looker, with a real handsome catch down in the Rocky Glades area of our Everglades system.

Gov. Ron Desantis announced last Thursday the upcoming 2021 Python Challenge will be held July 9-18 across South Florida. I’ve a bit of experience with hunting the Burmese pythons and since I’m nearly all healed up from my most recent snakebite, I’ve signed up. Along with my partner Ariel Dixon, we will be hunting round the clock, hoping to win some of the great prizes being offered by the state. You can read more about it at www.flpythonchallenge.gov.

With the success of so many shows depicting the hunting of these giant snakes, I get asked all the time, “How do I become a paid Python Removal Contractor?” and “Where are the best spots?” Well, here’s an answer from a longtime python eradication specialist with our Florida Wildlife Commission, Tom Aycock.

“Here’s the scoop from my perspective; there are two state agencies that hire invasive species removal contractors, our FWC and the South Florida Water Management District. There are 100 total contractors (50 per agency). I’m a FWC contractor since the first round of hiring for the program. Last I checked, the FWC had over 300 applications with between 50-80 folks having solid South Florida python removal experience. There’s only one or two openings each year, due to contractors leaving the program or being fired for disciplinary issues. Each contractor can only have a certain number of assistants and there can only be a certain number on a each hunt/survey. Each assistant, has to fill out a set of paperwork and have a background check.

“As far as secret spots for pythons I tell ya exactly where to go ... start just north of Key Largo in Southern Glades WEA, then work your way north to Frog Pond SGA and Rocky Glades SGA, then jump west to Big Cypress WMA. Once you’ve finished there, head through Everglades and Francis S. Taylor WMA up to I-75. Stay clear of Everglades National Park, because if you get caught removing or killing anything in there and get a wildlife citation, forget about becoming a contractor. Everything in Everglades National Park including Chekika and Shark Valley is protected unless you’re an authorized contractor. Prepare to go days and weeks sometimes without finding a python depending on the season. Sometimes you’ll find 2-4, but more often you come back empty sacked. It’s much like fishing. Report your captures to the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (483-4681) number and keep your fingers crossed that they hire ya. Be safe out there and truly thanks for your interest in helping with this damaging problem.”

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

To Tom’s spot-on advice I’ll add that a ton of information on python-related topics such as hunting regulations on each of the public land properties, how to apply to be a contractor, and more can be found at www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/python.

Nearly all of the current paid python contractors were first volunteers, many of them for years. So start volunteering, learning the hunting and handling techniques and who knows, one day you too may join the elite team of python specialists.

As always, if you have any feedback, give me a shout at RebelYellOutdoors@Gmail.com. God bless and good hunting!

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