New winner announced for state's Python Challenge

Central Florida man true winner of top prize

ORLANDO, Fla. - There's a new winning snake in the state's "Python Challenge."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Sunday that Blake Russ, of Fruitland Park, should have won $1,000 for bagging the longest Burmese python. Russ competed with hunters holding special permits for harvesting pythons.

"It's been just a dream come true to come down here and catch Burmese pythons. It's something I wanted to do as a little kid, catch large snakes," Russ said.

Russ told Local 6 he hunted only about 8 days out of the month-long challenge. He was working with a partner the day he first spotted the nearly 12-foot python, hidden in some brush.  Russ says half of the snakes body was already slithering into a canal. 

And unlike many of the other competitors who hunt with guns and machetes, Russ uses only his hands and a large pillow case.

"So I started pulling, pulling, pulling and I could feel the snake slipping out of my hands like I'm losing it. It was stronger than me," said Russ.

Russ says the python became exhausted after striking at him several times.

"Right after the strike, you can't hesitate, you have to go for the head and go for the neck and grab it as quick as you can.  It ended up biting me on the inside of my leg and I can feel the blood dripping down my leg, into my pant leg and onto my ankle.  But it's not that bad," said Russ.

Russ describes python hunting as a full-time hobby, and expects to be back at it later this week.

Among competitors without the python permits, Paul Shannon, of Lehigh Acres, won $1,000 for a 14-foot-3-inch snake.

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