Don’t read this article if you’re scared of snakes. On a recent outing, a team of Florida python hunters wrangled an absolutely gigantic invasive python—a 17-footer that weighed nearly 200 pounds. 

Mike Elfenbein was driving through Big Cypress National Preserve with his son late at night on November 4 when they spotted the giant snake crossing the road. “It was headed for the canal on the other side of the road,” Elfenbein, who serves as the Conservation Chair of the Cypress Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, tells Field & Stream. “We happened on it at the same time as another vehicle coming the other way.”

A trio of snake hunters from Tampa jumped out of the other car, Elfenbein says. One of them grabbed the giant snake by the tail before Elfenbein’s son jumped in to help. “She didn’t like what was pulling on her so she turned and came right back up on her body at full speed,” he recalls. “I ended up grabbing her by the head, which was like grabbing hold of a football.”

One of the Largest Pythons Ever Captured in Florida

Elfenbein and his son stretched the giant snake out while the other hunters jumped on its back. “It took everything we had to keep her pinned down,” he says. “Even with five guys on top of her, she was able to lift us off the ground and keep moving.”

According to an Instagram post from one of the python hunters in the other car, the hunt took place during a recent cold snap. Cold weather is known to make reptiles lethargic and hole up in secure areas. “This beast of a python [is] the second biggest … ever caught in Florida,” Holden Hunter wrote in the Instagram caption. “It’s crazy that these things are all over Florida now, but no one expects to see one this big.”

The snake weighed in at 198 pounds and was 17-feet, 2-inches long, which nearly puts it in record territory. This summer, a group of Florida python hunters wrangled a 19-footer, the longest on record in the Sunshine State. An 18-footer was then captured in August.  

Elfebein says the snake’s girth measured a whopping 23-inches in circumference, and a necropsy turned up months-old deer remains inside its stomach. “She had been eating really good. There were hooves and bones still in her stomach, and she had several eggs in the early stage of development,” he says. “The folks that cut her open said the deer remains had been in her stomach for about two months.”

New Rules Could Restrict Python Hunting in Big Cypress

Elfenbein says he’s worried about a proposal to turn the Big Cypress National Preserve into a federally-protected Wilderness Area. If designated as Wilderness, Big Cypress would no longer be open to vehicles, he says. And a ban on vehicular travel would severely limit the public’s ability to catch pythons, since the snakes are usually spotted by motorist traveling the road with powerful spotlights.

If the proposal goes through, Elfenbein says, scientists and government contractors would be barred from using vehicles to hunt pythons and conduct python-related research in Big Cypress as well. “We’re trying really hard to stop these snakes from destroying our native wildlife, and the government’s about to make a rule that will make it much harder for us to tackle this problem,” he says. “Why would we create a law that limits our abilities to manage the resource knowing that these are the types of things that the resource is up against?”

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According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, invasive pythons are primarily found in and near the Everglades, where they’re wiping out native furbearers and other wildlife species. The snakes are native to Southeast Asia and have few natural predators other than humans. Recreational and paid python hunters play a crucial role in limiting the spread of and damage caused by the big constrictor snakes.