Flashback Friday: Snake in the Grass

(A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post, complete with pictures, in which a rather lovely snake lost its life. I have a thing for reptiles with pretty patterns and I am a real early morning grouch so, of course, I left a sarcastic comment. I regret it now, not because I’ve changed my mind about killing snakes, but because the author of that post turns out to be a very nice woman with a wicked sense of humor who just happened to freak out and started swinging a shovel.

I understand now, having gone back to re-read that post several times, and I offer up this public apology to Mary, the owner of the blog OINKtales. The image of her protecting her brood, wildly swinging a shovel is kind of funny, but she lives not too far from Fish in a Barrel Pond and the last thing I need is for her to come after me. I’m sorry, Mary. Please don’t hit me with a shovel.)

To hear some people tell it, trout could not possibly survive without human intervention on their behalf. Unless something is done right now — according to these folks, anyway — Fish in a Barrel Pond will become a sterile, barren place, devoid of trout. Eagles, loons, osprey, mink, otters and who knows what else are bound to eat every fish in the pond, and not a day goes by that someone doesn’t suggest I “go out there and shoot them” before it’s too late.

Using a combination of questionable statistics, reckless extrapolation, hyperbole, smoke, and mirrors, they will make their case for the destruction of any potential threat to the trout that comes within half a mile of the place and I must, as politely as possible, remind them I will not go to jail for them and request that they immediately cease blowing smoke up my skirt.

There was a time when random, wanton destruction of wildlife was perfectly acceptable. According to this ad from the February, 1960 issue of Field & Stream, the exciting field of wildlife conservation held plenty of chances to kill predators. A real outdoors kind of guy could even find a job as a Government Hunter ( the ad also mentions opportunities at “luxurious, private fish and game clubs” which I will not comment on, what with being up to my eyeballs in anglers and all).

Private citizens, such as Frank Woolner, took matters into their own hands, writing articles like this one that appeared in the March, 1941 issue of Outdoorsman, demonstrating their dedication to trout and the protection thereof.

It seems that Mr. Woolner came upon a common water snake eating a trout one day. Well, if a snake would eat one trout it would surely eat more, and where there is one snake there are others, so it was obvious to him that millions of years of trout evolution were in serious danger of having been for naught.

To prove his point, Mr. Woolner caught a snake and brought it home, where it could be observed under carefully controlled conditions. Then, to determine the trout-consuming capabilities of the common water snake, he did what any right-minded person would do. He fed it frogs.

The snake polished off frog after frog, leading Mr. Woolner to the inevitable conclusion that the common water snake was Public Trout Enemy #1. Obviously, they needed to be shot.

With his brother, Jack, Mr. Woolner set out on a campaign of destruction, shooting every snake they could find. They were not alone in this effort, as this photo accompanying his article shows.

E.B. Rowson took the above photo of a snake shot by his friend Kenneth W. Wright, showing that, even in Chanute, Kansas, sportsmen were doing their part to protect wildlife from wildlife.

The United States was drawn into World War II nine months after this article appeared and the Woolner brothers presumably turned their attention to shooting other, more dangerous, enemies. They, and others like them, saved the world from Axis domination. For that we are grateful, and I suppose I also owe them a debt of gratitude for the trout I caught the other evening. Who knows what the fishing would have been like if not for the Great Snake Shooting Spree of 1941.

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