Python challenge concerns trappers

Challenge to catch pythons kicks off Saturday

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SOUTH FLORIDA - Snake trappers and amateurs alike are gearing up for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's "2013 Python Challenge," a month-long effort to learn about the non-native snakes and to get rid of them in the process. 

Some experienced snake hunters are worried the weekend warriors shooting at the snakes may be a danger to themselves and others.

David Leibman has been catching snakes all his life, and has bagged over 50 pythons in the Everglades. 

His latest catch was an 8-foot female with plenty of fight. 

"You're going to grab on to that tail and the snake's going to defend itself, and he's going to go wild. They are very powerful," said Leibman.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is trying to get the non-native reptiles out of the Everglades. 

"We need to think outside the box and do something that's never been done before," said FWC's Jorge Pino of the first Python Challenge.

Amateurs and seasoned hunters can enter the month-long challenge, hunting in four areas of the Everglades, using guns or machetes to humanly kill as many pythons as possible.  

"We're excited about having both of those classes of individuals out there," said Pino.

Leibman isn't so sure. 

"I thinks it's a little silly to be letting weekend warriors out there, maybe even a little dangerous," he said.

More than 400 people have signed up for the challenge. They all paid a $25 fee and completed safety training online.  But is that enough? 

"If you use common sense and you basically know what you are doing or you at the very least understand the parameters that we want you to work under, I think that we shouldn't have any problems," said Pino. 

"Getting hurt from another hunter that's out there that's allowed to go out with a gun, I'm not a big fan of having guns out there. I've been hunting snakes a long time. I've never had to bring a gun," said Leibman.

Rick Figueroa is taking his three sons and nephew out for the challenge. He hopes it's only wildlife, not bullets, he has to dodge. 

"These bullets hitting the ground and ricocheting putting myself or any of my kids in danger, and that's my main worry," said Figueroa.

Figueroa will be watching other amateurs like himself, and says if he sees careless people on the hunt, he and the boys will move to another area or go home. 

Wildlife officials say they will have extra patrols during the challenge.

Prizes include $1,000 for the longest python caught , and $1,500 for the most pythons killed.

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