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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

How I Became a Hoop Snake Expert

Here's another attempt at a humor column. I might not hit the mark every time, but I've had some good feedback already on this—my second venture into the world of cryptozoology.

Lots of people talk about Bigfoot (or Sasquatch), so it's a sure thing that Bigfoot exists, at least in the minds of believers around the world. The existence of hoop snakes is less sure and hardly anyone ever talks about them, even though they were a popular topic in the 1800s.

Maybe the legend of the hoop snake is on it last legs. Maybe the idea will soon go the the way of most folk tales. Maybe it's belly-up already. Or maybe just maybe, this little piece will revive it in the minds of those who believe in Bigfoot, Nessie, the Jersey Devil, and the Chupacabra.

My bi-weekly newspaper column, "The Everyday Hunter," appears in the Forest County News Journal (Tionesta, PA) and the Corry Journal (Corry, PA), both part of the Sample News Group. If you'd like to see "The Everyday Hunter" in your local newspaper, have your editor contact me.


To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

How I Became a Hoop Snake Expert

Steve Sorensen

In seventh grade our class had an assignment to find someone who was pretty much done living. The teacher said to interview them before they die, learn something from them, and do a report for the class. Randy’s report would get graded high on boring. He interviewed the librarian.


“I talked to Farmer Sidebottom for my report,” I claimed, even though I hadn’t seen him since we got the assignment. “He told me about the hoop snakes on his farm. And don’t roll your eyes at me—that’s what you did right before I proved Bigfoot is real! Hoop snakes are real too, but they’re so rare nobody ever sees one except their victims, just before they die.


“They aren’t like the garter snakes that hang around our woodpile, or the spotted adders my grandma chops up with a hoe. Hoop snakes live on top of mountains, and when one rolls downhill it’s always to poison someone. They sidewind their way back up like one of those western rattlesnakes. Or they hitch a ride on a Bigfoot.”


“Do Bigfoots have immunity?” Randy asked.


“There you go, Randy. When you’re losing an argument you always try to change the subject.”


I was on a hoop snake roll, with a lot of hoop snake facts popping into my head. “Hoop snakes are a cross between rattlesnakes and scorpions. They’re poisonous like a rattler but the poison is in a stinger on the tail, like a scorpion. When a hoop snake gets mad, he bites his tail, starts vibrating, and all of a sudden he’s up and rolling like a wheel. They don’t stop until they slam into whatever they decide needs poisoned. That’s when they let the tail go and wham-o, the victim gets the poison stinger.”


When I said “wham-o,” I remembered Hula Hoops. “In fact Randy, the company that makes Hula Hoops is named Wham-O. A lot of people don’t know the Hula Hoop was inspired by hoop snakes. If you get inside the snake’s hoop and wiggle your hips to keep the thing going round and round, the poisonous stinger can’t hit you because it’s on the outside. It’s the only defense against them.”


“What happens when you stop?” Randy thought he had me.


“Ha! You’re showing how much you don’t know! You don’t have to stop. Pretty soon the hoop snake gets dizzy, let’s go of his tail, and away he goes. Centrificky forks is their only weakness!”


“Do you mean ‘centrifugal force’?” Randy was trying to change the subject again, which obliged me to make up more facts on the spot.


“Hoop snake poison is 200 times hotter than a Mexican Jalapeno, and pretty much shrivels you to a cinder within seconds.” I made up the Jalapeno part to reinforce the cinder part.


“A hoop snake colony lives in the rocks on the hill above Sidebottom’s pasture. He leaves them alone so they don’t roll down among the cattle. One time Snooper, one of his barn cats, must have got tired of hunting barn mice and went up there to hunt rock mice. A snake got mad and rolled down the hill chasing the cat. The cows scattered all over the pasture. The snake hit a fencepost, bounced off, and stabbed an unlucky heifer. The fence post got burned to a crisp, and the snake still had enough poison to kill and cook the cow, but not enough to cinderize it.”


“Death was all over Sidebottom’s farm that summer. He had to build a fence around the dead heifer to keep animals away from it, but he couldn’t protect it from birds and cats. Every animal that ate from that dead cow was cooked before it even had a chance to die. Vultures died. Crows died. Most of his barn cats died, so some good came from it.”


Our school report was due the next day. I put everything I thought up into my report, and I made sure to sound smart by using a few big words, like cinderize. The interview part came from the time Sidebottom told me about a cow that got sick and died, and he roped it off so the other cows would stay away from it. Farmers are busy, so instead of bothering him for more details I just added what I thought he might say if he had more time.


I decided to go for extra credit by including a show-and-tell. I sprayed my sister’s Hula Hoop gray and used a piece of wire mesh to put a pattern on it that looked like snakeskin. Then I pounded a roofing nail through it for the stinger. During the question-and-answer part I told the class, “See how the stinger blends in? Because of that, a lot of people are dead now.” I lowered my voice at the end, for dramatic effect.


We were graded on four parts. I got an A for creativity, and an A for delivery because I had all the kids’ attention. I got a B for the question-and-answer part. If the teacher knew as much as I did about hoop snakes, I wouldn’t have gotten an F on the factual part, and my total grade might have been an A minus. My extra credit raised it from a B minus to a B.


Randy got a B but the teacher lowered it to a minus because the kids were too bored to ask any questions, and because he got the librarian’s name wrong. Kids had been calling her “Miss Sidewinder” for so long everyone forgot she was Sidebottom’s wife. Even Old Sidebottom must have forgotten, because he didn’t live at the library with her.


That was the only time I ever got a grade higher than Randy’s, and since then I’ve been Rust County’s expert on hoop snakes.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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