Succulent Snapper: How to Catch Snapping Turtles

Those who know how to catch snapping turtles can potentially find a delectable dinner as close as the nearest pond or stream!

  • 064 snapper - holding two
    When learning how to catch snapping turtles, make sure you know how to hold them.
  • 064 snapper - two panels
    LEFT: Snapping turtles can't pull their heads all the way in. RIGHT: They can turn themselves over pretty quickly when rolled on their back though. 
  • 064 snapper - crouching boy
    Snapping turtles can be dangerous, but not if you're clear of their jaws and claws.

  • 064 snapper - holding two
  • 064 snapper - two panels
  • 064 snapper - crouching boy

One of my earliest little-girl memories is of going with my dad and brothers to catch snapping turtles in the muddy Auglaize River near Wapakoneta, Ohio. The rugged, hook-jawed beasts—once pulled ashore and cleaned—would be cooked into a big pot of turtle soup or fried to a golden brown in a sizzling hot skillet.

This abundant and practically free source of delicious protein can be found in almost any body of fresh water in eastern North America. And though snappers look mean, they're a cinch to catch and— if you know what you're doing—easy to handle.

Foraging for the wild meat can be a profitable business, too! One of my nephews sells uncleaned snappers for over 50¢ a pound, and a single catch can net him an average of $7.50. Then there are folks (such as Noble Isley of Disko, Indiana), who make their living as turtle hunters and wholesalers. Isley sells dressed meat for $2.50 a pound, and he regularly supplies the product to large turtle fries ... which are becoming very popular at Legion halls, union gatherings, and friendly neighborhood hangouts in the Midwest.

What Makes It a Snapper?

Like its relatives, this tastiest of turtles (which bears the Latin name, (Chelydra serpentina) does have four legs, a head, and a tail sticking out from under a shell ... but it's pretty easy to distinguish snappers from their less feisty kin: Imagine a street fighter at a ladies' tea party, and you have about the right amount of contrast.

A snapper's shell is a dull (often mossy and algae-covered) piece of armor without any bright spots or markings, and neither the turtle's head nor its tail can ever completely retract into the protective carapace. The reptile's front legs are unusually quick and flexible, and a snapper can flip from its back to a traveling position in no time at all. Its yellow feet are tipped by claws as sharp as its eyes, and its jaws—supported by a thick, weightlifter's neck—can amputate a finger easily ... so be warned!

The snapper's Achilles' heel, however, is its tail! Grab it ... hold the creature well away from your body ... and you'll render this reptilian cousin of "Jaws" almost as harmless as a bucket of water.



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