Go ahead, grab away!
Midwest's new Gentle Giant Tongs are the safest yet for animal use.
Allen Hunter, November 14, 2000, originally published by the Southeastern Hot Herp Society
More than just a snazzy exterior - these tongs really deliver what they claim.
Call them what you will - 'tongs', 'grabs', 'spaz-stick', etc., the snake tong is one of those tools that although you may be hesitant or suspicious concerning it's use on the animal, you're often glad you had in cases of an out-of control animal that will NOT stay on hooks - or trying to dislodge an arboreal species from a branch. Starting with the advent of the first commercially-made snake tong, the Pilstrom Tong many years ago, these have been both a Godsend and terror in their actual use on live snakes. Careful pressure and restraint (no pun intended) had to be exercised by the handler to avoid rib and/or spinal injuries to the snake - which varied widely with each individual specimen - some snakes that would be relatively calm using just hooks would suddenly react violently to actually being grasped. And then the somewhat alarmed handler's natural tendency would be to tighten-up the grip to prevent the obviously enraged reptile from escaping or wrenching free of the grip - hence the injuries to the snake. After much experimentation, padding the jaws with foam rubber, and just plain old experience, one develops a 'feel' for using tongs. Admittedly, even with clunky old pilstroms, I can attest that I have never hurt a snake with tongs, but this may not be as easy for everyone to get a feel for them. Tongs were found to be much more useful for grabbing things from inside the enclosure, or offering feed items.
Things just got a whole lot easier with the new Gentle Giant tongs from Midwest.
I eagerly awaited the arrival of these new tongs, along with the new bagging system, and after some ridiculous incompetence by both Canada Post (missing parcel notices) & DHL courier (can't find address, then 'lost' in warehouse, then not lost, then lost again) the long overdue equipment arrived (through no fault what-so-ever of Midwest) - and what a pleasant surprise it was indeed!
The first thing that struck me about the tongs was their appearance - very slick and fancy looking. After hearing all the great ravings about these and their gentleness on the snake, Susan immediately offered her finger (always a good test to see how much pressure tongs exert) and told me to squeeze, so I obliged her and clamped on. Her face didn't even twitch (and Susan's pain-resistance level is almost nil), so she told me to squeeze harder. Same deal, although now she stated that she felt absolutely no pain, only wide applied pressure, and asked me to now squeeze as hard as I could. I'm sure the puzzled look on my face as I was doing this may have already answered her question, because with disbelief all I could manage to mumble was "I am!". I had that handle cranked all the way shut, and asked her to try and wriggle her finger free from the grip. No dice. Excellent! Before I get into the logistics of how this works, let's have an overall look at the construction.
Tong construction & details:
Working in a machine shop for 14yrs has taught me a lot about various manufacturing techniques & materials, and as far as I can see, the overall construction and attention to detail of these tongs is top notch. Although these are more expensive (both to produce and retail) than the standard tongs, I'm actually surprised that Midwest can offer these at the retail price of $79.95 US. I'm sure the initial expenditure with new dies for castings and new finishing techniques were hefty, and would initially push the price way up accordingly. The tongs received were the 'standard' 40", while different lengths are available. We'll break up the construction into three parts: the shaft, the handle, and the jaws themselves.
The shaft is made from high strength 3/4" aluminum tube, and measures 28 3/4" in length, and is finished in a rich, anodized deep blue, which will not chip, fade or peel like conventional paint - enameled or not. A white Midwest logo is laser etched near the handle, and both the jaws and handle are attached to the shaft via 4 stainless steel, smoothed rivets each, which were seated fully and felt strong and secure. The blue finish is a pleasant, welcome change from the usual plain aluminum of most tools, or the screaming orange parts of some other tongs - but this a matter of personal taste - and it's up to the individual user to decide which. Unlike some of the older designs, there are no exposed cables or rods to possibly tangle-up in the snake's tail; they're all enclosed within. Nice! Whether this shaft will stand the test of time (i.e. twisted, dropped out of trees, etc.) remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be surprised to see these easily lasting 20+ years without a problem. But heck, who cares anyway? Midwest already has a lifetime guarantee on all tongs ;-)
The handle is cast from a aluminum/titanium alloy, and is now finished in a bright, almost chromed appearance, which according to Midwest owner Dana Savorelli, is achieved by a process involving an abrasive polishing compound similar to gem polishing. The effect is very pronounced over the older, straight casting, and also lends a smoother feel to the grip. The only time I could possibly see this as being a minor problem, is that if the user has very sweaty hands, it may cause slippage - but this is something subjective. I personally don't have a problem with this, but someone who does could always use some tape on there for extra grip. Perhaps some knurling on the rear of the grip would also prevent this.
On the subject of feel, obviously a lot of thought went into the tensioning of the cable and springs. Pulling the grip lever was silky smooth with practically no play whatsoever. Of the two samples sent to me, there was a very slight difference in the tensioning - one felt slightly faster and 'tighter' than the other - but this difference is so slight as to not make any difference in actual practical usage. This is my own particular preference, and says nothing about the quality of the workmanship - which is flawless. The cable is strategically tensioned, so that even when maximum force is exerted during gripping, there is just enough flex in the cable to securely hold the animal, yet not enough to reach bone-snapping pressures that are possible with older, solid rod-loaded designs like Pilstroms.
The size of the handle and spread to the grip at 3 5/8" should be comfortable for almost all but the smallest of paws. I have very average sized hands, and found it to be very easy to work. Handlers with giant, baseball glove-sized hands might find the web-support protrusion on the back to be impeding, but these tongs are so good that I imagine those folks would be happy to adjust!
The jaws are where the Gentle Giant shine, and where basically the whole concept of the 'animal-friendly' tong design focuses. Made from the same alloy as the handle, and measuring 4 3/8" from tip of bottom jaw to throat, 2 1/4" wide at midpoint, and having a generous 5" gape, these jaws should easily accommodate all but the largest of Bitis vipers or boids. The lower jaw is polished smooth, with the return/opening spring recessed into it and out of the way. Yea! No more exposed springs, cables or rods! On more than one occasion I've had arboreal species such as mambas & boomslangs often tie themselves up in a tangle only to find that the snake has looped it's tail through one of the springs and clung to it, making things slightly precarious to release the snake. Nice to see.
In the past, most handlers have had to place some foam or rubber on the inside of the jaws to help prevent injury, and to help create 'drag', inhibiting the snake from slipping/crawling through the jaws. Midwest has finally heard the call, and has coated the upper jaw with a red, thin rubber that achieves drag on the snakes dorsal surface - while the smooth flat bottom jaw inhibits the ventral scales from making a purchase - thus in combination makes for a perfect hold on the snake. Due to the rather flat design of the jaws, the upper jaw also features a `finger' that helps to prevent the snake from wriggling out the front of the jaws while clamped.
The 2 1/4" width of the jaws themselves is the second part of the equation here, naturally contact pressure is reduced when spread over a wider area than with a narrow one, which makes perfect sense to me being applied here. This makes things much more comfortable on the snake, resulting in less 'freak-out' by the animal at being actually grasped as opposed to being lifted - which most snakes seem, by a predatory train of thought, to naturally react at.
When closed, which they don't completely (this is good), the resulting gap is 5/16" - enough to safely grab even smaller nasties like out-of-control Saw-scale vipers (which I don't use tongs on, but I could see this possibly happening out in the field), and smaller, squirrelly elapids and such.
I decided to try these out on a few different animals, of different sizes, and within reason, because of time and space restraints due to having Susan in the room with me (which as standard protocol in our house. I never handle any elapid over 6ft with anyone else in the room - hence it's hard to take pics of myself with just the camera's shutter timer) for photos.
My first real opportunity to test out these new tongs came when I just happened to be shipping out a quite spastic trio of 4ft. King Brown snakes (Pseudechis australis), that I had found to be rather annoying and were a real pain to deal with. These animals would always come immediately flying out of the cage biting at anything that moved in an overzealous feeding-response that sometimes proved to be quite dangerous to hook & tail on a regular basis. So I thought this would be a perfect occasion to 'test-drive' the new GG's for bagging them. I used the GG's on two of them, saving the last one for the usual hook & tailing to see if they wound up saving me time and effort.
Upon opening the first cage to the nastiest male, he predictably came rushing out at top speed, and here was where I first noticed how easily the lower jaw of the GG's quickly slid under the snake, as he was whipping-out. Quickly clamping-down on the snake at mid-body (the first 1/4 to 1/2 of the snake is the best location) and grabbing the tail for support, the next thing I immediately noticed was how apparently comfortable it seemed to the snake. On one previous occasion when this same snake ran away from me to go behind one of the big, immovable cages, I had to use a pair of padded standard tongs to get him out, which the snake took great offense to and immediately thrashed around and chewed furiously on the shaft. There was none of that this time around, which I attribute to the pressure-spreading width of the jaw design. As I lifted the snake to drop it into the bag (being held by a friend), I remembered the 'drag & slip' design of the upper & lower jaws, and paused briefly to check it out. Sure enough, try as he might, this normally weasely brown snake couldn't 'crawl' through the jaws (as what occasionally happens with normal tongs), and looked rather pathetic in it's fruitless attempts to so. Bonus!
The next King Brown was also quickly & effortlessly dispatched into a bag with identical results. It is interesting to note here that the bagging of these two snakes using the GG's was way faster and easier, and tailing the third snake for bagging (after chasing, cornering, hooking, tailing, dodging it's strikes as it's 'whirligigging' on the end of the hook), I realized using the GG's for flighty/nasty snakes was much faster and infinitely safer all-round.
I also used the GG's on another snake which are really nasty-tempered - one of my Desert Blacksnakes (Walterinnisia aegyptia). Normally, these snakes are not particularly flighty, but really stand their ground and strike repeatedly at the annoyance. These snakes also have a very long strike-length, and a bad tendency to quickly whip around and 'hook-strike' backwards at anything touching their tails - making tailing occasionally precarious. I was pleasantly surprised to see identical results from these snakes as well using the GG's on one of them, as I really expected them to put up savage resistance to even these tongs. But no dice - after a couple of hisses & jerks, they actually went strangely placid...how nice indeed!
Testing these tongs on a heavier-bodied snake, in this case a 3ft. Puff adder, produced a similar result, and it seems that these tongs would have no trouble being used on all but the smallest of snakes or the largest of fat-bodied Bitis vipers or boids.
The Gentle Giant tongs from Midwest reflect what I feel to be the most advanced and 'animal-friendly' tongs available anywhere, at any price - and believe me, I've used them all. The quality of materials and construction is top-notch, and is backed by Midwest's lifetime guarantee - all of which adds up to be an incredibly effective and useful tool that I'm sure will last for many years of hard usage. No doubt about it - I believe this overall design will stand the test of time, and from now on set the new standard by which all other tongs will be judged. I recommend them highly! My old Pilstroms now look absolutely primitive by comparison.
Review & photos by Allen Hunter