Jeff Stafford's buddy owes him a few beers — and 41 brews would still be a bargain for the colony of bull snakes Stafford found slithering in the crawl space of friend's townhome in Westminster Sunday.

The 25-year-old banker had stopped by his friend's place near Federal Boulevard and West 112th Avenue to say "hi." He was wearing flip flops.

His friend, who asked to remain anonymous, was tending to a leaky pipe beneath the home, while Stafford chatted with his friend's wife.

"Thirty seconds later I heard what sounded like the yelp of a small, frightened child," Stafford said Monday.

His friend had spotted a snake in the muddy crawl space.

"Dude, you've got to go get it," Stafford recalled him saying Monday.

With a flashlight and a stick of firewood, Stafford climbed into the crawl space and onto the blue tarp that covered the muddy surface.

The tarp moved beneath him; the floor writhed in bull snakes — 41 of them by the time Stafford got through stuffing them into a trash bag.

"They were moving pretty slow, so I think they were still hibernating," he said.

An obvious crack was likely their entrance way, said Stafford, a native of Texas who spent last year traveling in the bush in Australia, were snakes were common encounters, he said.

His friend doesn't want to be named because he doesn't want to discuss the discovery, Stafford said.

"We went out for a beer afterward," said Stafford, who took the bag of snakes to an open field several miles out of town.

That was a smart move, said Mel Horne, owner of Alpha Animal Control in Broomfield, who removes snakes and other varmints for a living.

Snakes can find their way back to a comfortable spot unless they're taken several miles away, he said.

Bull snakes and garter snakes are known to hide in cool, dark spaces beneath homes in the northern metro area, he said.

Bull snakes, often called gopher snakes, are not poisonous and feed on field mice, large insects, lizards and other snakes, according to experts.

They grow large — up to 6 feet long — so their fright factor is their greatest risk to humans, especially since they resemble a rattlesnake and the snore-like hiss is often mistaken for a rattle.

Joey Bunch: 303-954-1174 or jbunch@denverpost.com