Buddies Win Fla. Python Challenge

Miami — Bolstered by a harrowing tale of wrestling with a 14-footer, three Fort Myers, Fla., buddies have won the top general categories in the heavily publicized Python Challenge.

Dubbing their team “Is That a Snake In Your Pants?,” Paul Shannon, Jake Carner and Brian Barrows spent six days on the challenge, going to Conservation Area 3A west of Weston, Fla. — a four-hour roundtrip drive from their Fort Myers homes.

Yesterday, at a news conference at Zoo Miami announcing the results of the challenge, Shannon, Carner and Barrows told about their greatest catch:

They were walking along the shore line of a tree island about 2 o’clock one afternoon. Shannon looked back to see that a foot of mud had fallen off a long python that was slithering through the slime.

Shannon drew a Judge pistol that uses .410 shotgun shells and shot, apparently grazing it. As he stopped to reload, Carner grabbed the python to pull it out of the mud. The snake’s head swung around and lunged at him. Carner fell back into the bushes.

The python coiled again, getting ready to strike. “This was seriously intense,” said Shannon. “Its girth must have been at last two feet.”

Shannon then shot it twice in the head.

The team won $1,000 for their 14-foot, 3-inch python and Barrows was awarded $1,500 for catching the most pythons — six — in the general category.

They were among the 1,600 registered competitors from 38 states and Canada to take part in the hunt. Organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the competition was intended to raise awareness about the dangers of outside species invading the state, and it certainly did that. More than 10 news video cameras were on hand to record the winners of this first-of-its-kind event that has drawn national attention. Even Sen. Bill Nelson took time out for some python hunting.

It wasn’t an easy task. The final count was 68 pythons caught during the month-long contest — meaning that more than 95 percent of contestants trekked through the Everglades without bagging anything.

Ruben Ramirez of Miami, a veteran hunter, won the python permit holders competition by “harvesting.”