Mississippi snake-dunking booth has surprising back story

Jimmie Nichols wrangles a snake in the teaser of his TV show Mississippi Snake Grabbers. Source: CMT Canda
Jimmie Nichols wrangles a snake in the teaser of his TV show Mississippi Snake Grabbers. Source: CMT Canda

MORTON, MS (WDAM) - It is a video that has drawn nationwide criticism, and given most people goosebumps.

Grabuone Outfitters out of Morton, Mississippi posted a video of a snake-dunking booth on their Facebook page that has garnered 4.3 million views in two days.

The history behind the booth is just a small portion of a much larger story.

Jimmie Nichols has played with snakes his entire life. He is a self-described good ole' country boy who would never hurt a snake. That passion took him from a routine fishing trip with the boys one year to hosting a snake-grabbing rodeo that garners a crowd of thousands to the state each year.

"It's just me and six other guys," Nichols said. "One day we were fishing and I scooped up a snake into the boat and my friend got so scared he said 'you know you are no good at fishing, you may as well just be a snake catcher.'"

Nichols said at first it was just a joke, but then they all decided to make a group out of it.

"We uploaded a video to Youtube of us grabbing some snakes one year and it went viral," Nichols said.

Nichols and his friends were interviewed by several national media outlets, including Megan Kelly at Fox News. He said the attention was so widespread that he and the guys were able to land a television show.

Mississippi Snake Grabbers is a lifestyle-reality episodic series featuring six Mississippi law enforcement agents (DEA, Bureau of Narcotics, State Troopers, District Attorney, etc) who, on the weekends head out to the wilds of Mississippi and catch snakes with their bare hands. The idea of the series is that the 6 guides take out a group of civilians and teach them how to hand-grab snakes, according to the show's IMDB profile.

The show aired in Canada on CMT in 2015.

"The show really allowed us to educate people on snakes," Nichols said.

The success and fame from the show did not get to the men's heads. Nichols said the purpose of the rodeo was to raise funds for a 9-year-old little boy they met who had cancer.

"The rodeos benefit him," Nichols said. "There is snake grabbing, music, lots of fun stuff."

There is one difference between their rodeo and those that people find in Texas or Florida.

"We don't kill the snakes," Nichols said. "Period."

Which leads to the question, why so much outrage over the dunking booth?

Comments on the video vary from support, to absolute disgust.

"Well, I can see it from both sides," Nichols said.

The dunking booth was featured as an event at last year's rally. Nichols said someone at the rodeo joked about putting some snakes in the dunking booth.

"It was actually a very spontaneous idea," Nichols said. "The misconception is that the snakes were hurt, or drowning. That wasn't true. These are water snakes, they float."

As for those who drew criticism about squishing the snakes, Nichols was very firm in his answer.

"If I saw even one snake get hurt, that would have been the end of it," Nichols said. "We do not hurt snakes. It's the same as people grabbing fish with their hands."

Nichols said the boys haven't decided whether or not to set up the dunking booth again.

"We don't want that to be the main reason people come to the rodeo, we don't want to offend anybody" Nichols said. "We want to educate people, help them get over their fear. We love all wildlife and want to protect it."

Nichols said he and the boys work very closely with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife for their rodeos. According to Nichols, each and every snake caught at the rodeo are released back into the lake.

"They are a very important part of our ecosystem," Nichols said. "Not all snakes are harmful."

The next snake rodeo will be held in June. To learn more about Grabuone Outfitters, or the snake rodeo they host, click here.