Florida Python Challenge Kicks Off Friday, Hundreds of Snake Hunters Expected to Join Event

by Emily Morgan

The annual Florida Python Challenge is gearing up to kick off this week, and it’s got people from all over the country trying their hand at hunting Burmese Pythons.

This weekend, the statewide competition will bring hundreds of snake-hunting professionals and novices to the sunshine state to hunt what wildlife officials call the state’s most invasive species.

Among those getting reading for the multi-day hunt is Amy Siewe. At just 5’4″ and 120 pounds, Siewe may appear small. However, when it comes to hunting Pythons, she’s a beast.

“I don’t look like I can catch a 17-foot snake,” the 45-year-old said. “But I can.”

The Florida Python Challenge encourages novice snake hunters to go after the serpents for cash prizes. This year’s challenge runs Aug. 5 through Aug. 14. Its goal is to both hunt snakes and raises awareness of the harm they cause to the environment.

“The proliferation of pythons is an emergency situation for our native wildlife in South Florida,” said Michael Kirkland, senior invasive animal biologist for the South Florida Water Management District and the manager of Florida’s Python Elimination Program. “Human detection right now is the most effective tool in our toolbox.”

Kirkland said people like Siewe had removed 10,000 pythons since the state began looking into the problem in 2017. With the additional help of novices during the challenge, the state hopes to catch as many as possible.

“When it comes to pythons, we need all the help and awareness we can get,” he said.

Snake hunting hopefuls must also pay a $25 registration fee and take an online course that requires them to prove that they can distinguish a Burmese python from native, less invasive, Florida snake species.

Snake hunters breaking out all the stops for Python challenge

Event organizers will also award successful hunters up to $2,500, given in a variety of categories, including the most pythons caught and the longest pythons captured.

For the professionals taking part in the event, the competition is stiff.

For instance, Siewe, a former real estate agent who moved to Florida from Indiana, earns $13 an hour for hunting pythons throughout the year. She also makes an additional $50 for the first 4 feet of any python she catches. Moreso, she gets $25 for each foot beyond that.

The largest python Siewe caught came in at 17 feet, 3 inches and weighed 110 pounds— nearly as much as her.

Among those facing off against Siewe is fellow professional python hunter and defending challenge champion Dusty Crum.

Born and raised in Florida, Crum caught the longest python in the competition’s professional category in 2021. He caught a 16-foot python.

In 2016, he was part of a three-person team that took top honors in the challenge, successfully hunting 33 snakes.

For this year’s competition, snake hunters plan to use various tools to set them apart from the competition. From snake hooks to unique bags to specialized lights that can spot the creepy crawlies in the dark of night, they’ve got it all.

To prepare for this year’s challenge, Crum plans to use his curated collection of snake-catching devices

“When it comes to the challenge, it’s guns blazing,” Crum said. “I’m trying to utilize all my equipment: little geo-trackers, four-wheelers. I’ve got swamp buggies, monster trucks with big tires on them.”