In 1972, Charles Kovalick and his step-brother Chester Visneski were at a regular meeting of the Noxen-Monroe Sportsman’s Club.
Visneski suggested hosting a rattlesnake hunt for a fundraiser for the club, and the rest is Noxen history.
Visneski and Kovalick headed west to the Sinnemahoning Sportsmen’s Association rattlesnake hunt to see how things were done, and brought the information back to Northeast Pennsylvania for the beginning of a family tradition for years to come.
The original rattlesnake hunt in Noxen was held in August of 1972, but as Kovalick explained, “It was too late. The snakes were out of their dens it wasn’t a good time.”
The following season, the Club hosted the event in late June and had tremendous success.
The Noxen-Monroe Sportsman’s Club held the event for the next 12-13 years before letting the permit expire.
From then, there was a lull before the Noxen Volunteer Fire Department picked it up.
“The most successful part of our hunt was the sacking contest” said Kovalick, who is a renowned wildlife artist in the area.
He explained that the contest consisted of two partners who were in a ring with six rattlers. The game was to see who could pick up the rattlesnakes in the least amount of time without being bitten.
“There was a five second penalty if you got bit,” he chuckled.
Kovalick took second place one year with his teammate Terry Shook, who was the bagger.
“I got bit once,” remembered Kovalick. “I went to the clinic and they didn’t believe me, they thought I was joking about how it happened. I got a tetanus shot and then a half hour later I got the anti-venom serum and went to the hospital.”
Kovalick noted that in the early years, “We had about 25-30 snakes from around 35 hunters. That timing was much better. We grew it to as high as 100 snakes per hunt from about 60 hunters. The more returning hunters we had, the more experience they had. It was great,” said Kovalick.
Some of the major changes in today’s Rattlesnake Roundup, which is typically held over Father’s Day weekend each year at the Noxen fairgrounds, include rules and regulations.
According to Kovalick, who has not been to a roundup since the fire department began hosting it, “We didn’t have all the regulations that are in place now from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, but we did always release the snakes, unharmed, back to the area we caught them. We took care of the snakes because we needed them the next year for the next hunt, so we returned them to their dens. Now, you need permits and licenses.”
He continued, “It is a sport, but there is no sacking contest today. The regulations killed us with that.”
Kovalick is happy that the Roundup is still an attraction in Noxen, and said he is glad they still draw large crowds.
“People are mystified by it-the snakes, the whole thing,” he said. “Every year they have new hunters, new beginners. There are prizes, like we had, for largest, most rattles, and longest non-poisonous.”
Also, the education aspect of the event decades ago, was non-existent. Kovalick simply stated, “We handled the snakes, we showed the people, we put them back.”
“The Noxen fire department does a good job. Back in the day, if members found a snake, they would just toss it aside. Fewer and fewer people we involved in the hunt and the sacking contest. We only did it Friday and Saturday,” he remembered.
“Now, they have four days, and food, and vendors, and stands, it is interesting. It is a good time. And it all started out as a sporting event,” he said.
The current installation of the Rattlesnake Roundup will run Thursday through Saturday, June 13-16, with grounds opening at 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Visit the Rattlesnake Roundup Facebook page for more information.