Python hunter alone in Florida Everglades suffers bloody bite, brings home 17-foot snake

PALM BEACH - The snake's head was the size of a garden spade and pounced once or twice on hunter Mike Kimmel before sinking his teeth back into his arm, causing blood to spurt in the rhythm of his racing heart.
Alone on a spoiled island deep in the Florida Everglades, Kimmel had come in search of the invasive python. He knew that the hills with high, dry ground would be a fruitful hunt, with rain and water rising in late May. He estimated the muscle spool in the crispy undergrowth to be about 17 feet.
But the licensed python hunter underestimated his reach and took a risk by grabbing his tail instead of his head. Teeth constructed to impale and hold fighting prey cut a vein under his elbow.
"At this point, my main concern is not to faint," said 32-year-old Kimmel, whose video of the June 8 encounter shows a breathless fight with a cut predator the size of a small ship's mast. "Bleeding came to mind, but I was really worried about losing consciousness."
Mike Kimmel, a South Florida Water Management District python hunter, with an estimated 17-foot python that he caught in the Everglades on June 8. Kimmel from Martin County owns Martin County Trapping and Wildlife Rescue. Photo courtesy of Mike Kimmel
While Florida's unique Burmese python hunts have become Disney-like with the hype of this year's eye-catching Python Bowl, and rockers Ozzy Osbourne and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey take television-made excursions to look for snakes, Kimmel's is short, but the bloody battle shows how deadly serious the extermination of the invasive reptile can be.
It's not a gentle ride on the Jungle Cruise.
"Every time you catch something larger than 14 feet, it's no longer a snake but a monster," said Donna Kalil, 57, a licensed python hunter for the South Florida Water Management District. "I want to say that I'm doing something dangerous in a very careful way."
Kalil estimates that she has caught 300 pythons, mainly as part of the 3 year old water management program that pays hunters a minimum wage of up to 40 hours a week for hunting pythons and bonuses based on length.
A python up to 4 feet long earns an additional $ 50, then another $ 25 per foot. An additional $ 200 can be earned for each python guarding a nest of eggs.
The longest python Kalil caught was 15.5 feet.
She was bitten several times, but never had a wound that drew the kind of blood that bubbled Kimmel, soaked his pants and shirt, and spilled on the tortuous snake and grass around him.
One of her scariest moments was during a night hunt. She had a donation and saw an estimated 18 foot in the water. She crawled down the bank where it turned on in the dark.
"I shot it straight in the head with a .44 magnum," said Kalil, who used snake bullets that didn't even penetrate the skin. “I felt that my life was in danger. Just seeing such a big snake and meeting him face to face was a little creepy. "
The snake fled into the saw grass and escaped. Another time, she grabbed a 13-foot python by the head, but it was so strong that it was ripped from the levy on which it was "like a rag doll". She fell 5 feet to the ground and landed on her chin, but did not let go of the snake.
Kalil prefers to take others on a hunt and give her extra eyes to find the pythons and help with larger snakes.
Kimmel, also a Python hunter under contract in the district, goes solo in the swamp.
On Monday morning before the bite, he had steered his 14-foot Jon boat through the still waters of the Everglades and stopped on several islands before encountering the 17-foot boat.
In adrenaline racing, he set up his cameras to record the capture for records from the water management district and its social media fans. Instead of reaching for the head, he reached for the tail. While the head was a bit hidden in the brush, Kimmel admits that he also wanted to test his skills.
“It definitely showed me its strength right away. I dug my heels in the limestone to stop it and there was a tug of war, ”said Kimmel. "From there it did what I wanted, came back and hit me because it gives me the opportunity to get his head."
He avoided a couple of strikes, then he didn't.
"She took me to the son, but I did have her," Kimmel said in a Facebook post as he tied his bleeding arm with a fabric snake bag without ever letting go of the python.
Kimmel, known by the social media name Python Cowboy, won this year's Florida Python Bowl after catching eight snakes during the tournament. He is also known for his work in catching and killing invasive green iguana, Egyptian geese and wild pigs.
But it's the python that made him a social media star, with videos and photos showing how he catches three pythons at the same time and stumbles across a python nest full of eggs - one of the most significant moments in Kimmel's python- Hunting career, he said.
He is not the only district python hunter who has achieved some fame or made a career out of the program. Around 3,000 snakes have been removed from the Everglades since March 2017.
Jason Leon, 31, of Miami, was a short-term district hunter, but found the state's longest-running python - 18 feet, 8 inches - years before the program started. He now conducts guided python hunts on air boats and ATVs. As much as Leon says that snapping a python is a feat that anyone can master, he acknowledges the dangers.
"If this snake (Kimmel) had bitten a main artery, it could have bled out easily," said Leon. "I have been in situations where I have been wrapped up several times and if your arm or leg is dead and you lose circulation, you lose control."
Dusty "Wildman" Crum, known for his barefoot snake fight, is a district hunter and has earned a Discovery Channel show called "Guardians of the Glades".
Crum, 40, said the show had been paused because of the new corona virus, but an episode in season one held a scary fight he had with a more than two meter long snake that he thought would do me Take off your head like a Barbie doll. ”
Kimmel, who was hunting with Crum that night, had to jump in after the snake wrapped around his neck.
"I was kind of annoyed that I wasn't there to help him," said Crum. "We probably shouldn't go hunting alone, but we do it because we are stubborn men."
Crum's longest snake was 16 feet, 11 inches.
Kimmel doesn't know exactly how long his last catch will take or how much he weighs because the water management district's check-in station is closed due to the corona virus. Hunters are asked to freeze their snakes until they can be opened again.
But a rough measurement - with kinks - was at least 17 feet.
The district record is 17 feet, 5 inches.
Kimmel said he weighs between 130 and 140 pounds and believes the snake could have a similar weight.
He could even bring it back to his Jon boat with an injured arm and a light head and put it in a secured box.
"I love snakes and they have to be respected, not feared," said Kimmel. "You have to be mistaken for what they are, a wild animal that can hurt you."
Follow Kimberly Miller on Twitter: @Kmillerweather
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida Everglades Burmese Python Hunter bitten, 17-foot snake catches

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