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June 14, 2013

Don't play around with snappers

The Daily Star

---- — The other day, I was driving along Route 205 between Mount Vision and Hartwick. Suddenly, I had to swerve out of my lane to miss a huge snapping turtle. It was crossing from a large swamp on the left to some higher ground on the other side of the road.

I was glad I missed it because, I’ve heard, it’s usually the female turtle that gets hit in the road as they move to their nesting areas.

Snapping turtles are unique creatures. They have a fierce disposition, which may be caused by having a body larger than its shell. While most turtles can pull their heads and feet inside their shells for protection, the snapping turtle can’t.

I remember my first encounter with a snapping turtle. I was just a young lad, maybe 8 or 10. The cows had been milked and I had to drive them up the hill and into the pasture. As I went along behind them, I spotted some strange creature in the lane. To my surprise, it was a huge turtle. Of course, being that young, an average-sized snapper probably looked bigger than it actually was.

Being a curious fellow, I poked at it with the broom handle I used to drive the cows. The turtle grabbed onto that piece of wood and nearly chewed the end of the stick off.

I guess I’m lucky I didn’t try to pick it up. A snapping turtle’s neck is long enough to reach halfway back on to their shell. Those jaws would easily have removed a finger or two.

Have you ever heard of anyone getting bitten by these turtles? I haven’t, but maybe it’s because they usually live in water and easily slip away when confronted by humans.

Snapping turtles are omnivorous creatures. They eat plants and small animals. Very often, they lay in the mud along the shores of a pond or swamp with just their heads exposed. They will eat anything they can swallow, including small ducks, frogs and even snakes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s alive or dead, either. They’ll eat it anyway.

Snapping turtles can live for more than 30 years. A large snapper can grow to a shell length of about 19 inches and weigh up to 70 pounds. Now that’s a lot of turtle soup.

In certain areas of the country, people actually eat turtles. I’ve never tried it, but it probably doesn’t taste like chicken.

Snapping turtles can be hunted in New York if you have a small-game license, but they can only be harvested with a gun or bow from July 15-Sept. 30. There is a health advisory because these creatures contain substantial amounts of mercury, lead and PCBs. If you do eat them, you should remove and discard all the fat, liver and eggs.

I like alligator and enjoy frog legs, but I’m a little reluctant to try turtle. The lawmakers in Albany like them, though. They made the snapping turtle the official NYS reptile.

I guess the turtle represents the slow pace that they get anything done up there. Seems to fit, doesn’t it?

What’s happening?

The Dave Brandt Chapter of Trout Unlimited is hosting a fishing derby at Hodges Pond in Neahwa Park from noon-2 p.m. on Father’s Day. Participants should bring their own equipment, although some loaner rods are available. Fishing worms will be provided. Prizes will be awarded in age-groups 5-10 and 11-15. Children younger than 15 must be accompanied by a parent. Anyone ages 16 and older must have a valid NYS fishing license.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at