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Illinois hunting and fishing

Dave Richardson opens the mouth of a western diamondback rattlesnake to show its fangs to the audience Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair. Photos by Chris Young.

Rattlesnake handler wants to change people’s minds about snakes

August 15, 2012 at 03:58 PM

The State Journal-Register

“Rattlesnake” Dave Richardson would like to change the way people think about snakes.

Richardson is performing his West Texas Rattlesnake Show four times daily in Happy Hollow at the Illinois State Fair.

He handles venomous Western diamondback rattlesnake for the crowds, letting people see the fangs and experience the snake’s speed as it strikes at a balloon.

It’s serious business, but Richardson likes to have a little fun, too.

“Who wants to see something real dangerous?” he asks the audience.

“We do.”

“You’re seeing it,” he says. “Every time they rattle, it’s a negative.”

Even though venomous snakes can be dangerous, Richardson says very few people die from snakebites in the United States each year.

“There are only three ways to get bit,” he said. “Surprise them, hurt them or let them confuse your hand or body part with food.”

In more than 20 years of performing, Richardson says he has never been bitten.

He started working with snakes after attending the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas.

He had moved from Syracuse, New York to Houston to change careers, but the new job didn’t work out. On the way home, he visited the roundup where he saw hundreds and thousands of snakes – and saw his first snake handling show.

“There’s a guy in there doing shows like I’m doing,” Richardson says. “And you know how many times that guy was bitten? Something like 45 times in 39 years.”

Richardson says that’s not bravery, so much as failure.

“Can you imagine if you open a driving school, and you want to teach people how to drive automobiles?” he asked. “And someone asks, ‘How long you been teaching?”

“Thirty-nine years.”

“Have you ever had a car wreck?”

“Yeah, I’ve had 45 car accidents,” he said with a laugh. “Now there’s something real wrong there. He should have quit 44 bites ago.

“I’ve never been bitten,” he said. “If I get bit once just once, there will be a rattlesnake show for sale real cheap.”

Richardson says attitudes about snakes are passed down from parents to children.

If the parents react with fear and try to kill the snakes, it’s likely the children will, too.

“I don’t want them out there killing snakes,” he said. “When people see a snake, the first thing they want to do is get a hoe or a rake and kill it.

“They don’t have to do that,” Richardson said. “Even the venomous ones are OK if you leave them alone.

“I’d like to maybe change some attitudes.”

West Texas Rattlesnake Show
Times: 11:30 a.m., 1:50, 4:10 and 6:30 p.m.
Happy Hollow

On the Web:

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois venomous snakes:

Dave Richardson is handling a Western diamondback rattlesnake, a snake not found in Illinois.

Illinois has four species of venomous snakes, including the timber rattlesnake, Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (pictured below), copperhead and cottonmouth.

The Eastern Massasauga is listed as state endangered. The timber rattlesnake is listed as threatened in Illinois.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.


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