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Old 01-07-2012, 10:43 AM   #1
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Poisonous Snake Encounters AND Avoidance

When "outdoors" we all can encounter snakes. This could be your yard, garage or in the woods. Although most snakes are harmless and GOOD, people figure a good snake is a dead snake. There are even legless lizards that appear to be a snake...

I have had many occasions in the MidWest and the Western USA to come across venomous snakes. It might work out to 1 in twenty encounters IS actually a snake to avoid, and when in doubt, just avoid all of them. The snakes that I actually "fear" the most are the Copperheads found in Missouri and surrounding states. The hair stands up on my neck when I encounter a Copperhead... They do not rattle a warning nor hiss, but begin to recoil into a smaller area, yet still blend into the leaf litter on the ground. Bull & Gopher snakes that resemble a poisonous snake, hiss loudly and recoil, will get your attention right away and are "good" snakes.

Rattle snakes I have the most experience in my travels. In Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming if I encounter a snake, it is probably a rattle snake. They do give fair warning and when you hear that "rattle", you will not forget to stop and look around. Stepping on a rattle snake is probably the biggest threat to the snake and yourself. Tall grass and clumps of brush are great snake areas to travel through. I have found rattle snakes a foot long on the dirt road on the North Grand Canyon and one nearly five foot rattle snake, sunning itself in a sandy open spot, near the ghost town of Hamilton, Nevada. The one in Nevada looked like a straight tree branch with a green tint, freshly broken off a tree. But through all of these encounters, I have never been bitten or had a close encounter to risk being bitten. Why... because I have a... great respect... to avoid a snake encounter. Walking in "snake country" should tune in your senses while hiking, or even stepping out of your AS. I wear a wide brim "cowboy" hat which is like a satellite dish collecting the slightest rattling in the scrub. I carry a four foot long walking stick, as I probe through thick grassy, suspect areas. I do not reach up to a ledge while ascending a "sunny" rock exposure without giving it a preliminary look around. So, there are precautions you can take in the event you might encounter... something. You see horny toads and lizards scurrying about... think snake country.

I am by no estimate of the imagination a snake expert, enthusiast nor fan of snakes. They want to avoid me, while I avoid them when I see them. I have jumped into a creek while fly fishing in Wyoming after hearing the rattling in the tall grass! While walking the asphalt path near Guernsey, Wyoming at the Oregon Trail Ruts, I was startled to encounter a bull/gopher snake about 3 and a half feet long hissing and acting like a rattle snake in a bush, making me jump back several feet without giving it a thought. Our two Blue Heelers gave it plenty of room, while it retreated into the dense scrub along the path. I have taken my walking stick and gently "flipped" smaller rattle snakes away from our tent site in the National Grasslands near the area I recommended to camp your AS on this forum... over the edge of the Badlands to go on their way.

The experts will tell you that if you encounter a rattlesnake, stop and survey the area to avoid threatening the snake. Then back away slowly. If you have the misfortune to actually step on a rattlesnake the "bite" could be a dry bite or wet bite. One discharges the snake's precious venom and the other is just to scare the jeepers out of the larger animal, be it a cow, deer, elk or human. The snake does not attack a human, unless you are agitating it... or foolish enough to try to shoot it. Poisonous snakes are hunting for something small enough to be swallowed after striking their victim. A larger mammal is not on their targeted game, meaning you. After a number of encounters with snakes, you will become less fearful of them and can avoid a conflict of interest. Their wanting to get away from you, and your wanting to put distance from them will be shared. Your fear will eventually become a routine awareness that snakes can be concentrated in some areas, and in others non existent.

In my lifetime wandering the deserts, prairies and forests my encounters with poisonous snakes has been so minimal, I can count them on my ten, maybe eleven fingers. I encountered MORE copperheads in my yard in Missouri in eight years than ALL the others in the entire WORLD. I have found the National Forest Service have free handouts concerning snake identification, like you really WANT to get that close, so you are aware of what is to be found in an area. I recall my encounters, and I say encounters as I physically saw the snake, as it does make an immediate impression on your memory. The majority the snakes and I did not even know we were near one another and that was fine with me.

I know this is another one of those "wordy" essays, but I am sure there are some of you who would be so gracious to share your encounters with a snake. I would prefer an encounter with a poisonous snake than a porcupine, any day. The amazing story I can relate to you is the natural ability of a dog to detect a snake and their natural avoidance. Children must be taught not to fear snakes, but give them plenty of respect. We can talk about footwear, clothing and avoidance methods, but being aware of entering snake country in sandals and short pants puts you in no more risk than over dressing for hand to hand combat in 100 degree weather with unnecessary protections.

When I can find the photograph of the Nevada five footer, I will enter it later... you will be impressed!

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Old 01-07-2012, 11:16 AM   #2
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Interesting read, thank-you.

I am scared of all snakes (although I am getting better). There are no poisonous snakes in my immediate area; there are rattlers in the semi-arrid part of B.C. though.

I had a friend in N. Carolina who was always getting nailed by Copperheads in his barn. His snake stories would always send chills up my back. He also had King snakes (non-venomous). One King snake became his "guard snake." It would patrol his backyard - keep the Copperheads away. He was rather fond of that snake.

Australia has lots of creepy-crawlies just waiting to kill you. I never encountered any while visiting. I'll never forget a video of a brown snake (one of their deadliest) chasing a kid. They can move very FAST.

I wonder if any Airstreamers have found a snake in their trailer? Is there any way one can get in? Oh lawrdy.....this is one question I really did not want to ask!

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Old 01-07-2012, 12:29 PM   #3
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Terrain of Previous Encounters

My wife told me that when we returned with the camera, our five foot rattler had departed... which did not ease our expectations as to where did it go. This is the area in the first photograph. Hamilton, Nevada

The Nebraska badlands sport much leaner, smaller snakes. You have the grassy mesas with Badland gullies below. Seeing a rattler over 24 inches and the diameter of a half dollar is rare... from my encounters.

The Oregon Trail Ruts are the third example of terrain, where the gopher snake was lingering along the asphalt walkway.

This season I will try to have my camera ready when a rattlesnake is encountered. They are not photo shy at all...
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Old 01-13-2012, 08:36 AM   #4
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Rattle snakes here in the Rocky mountain NW often frequent rock piles where thay can easily den up. It is not uncommon to see them out in the sun to warm up and certainly not uncommon to come upon them and NOT have them rattle a warning! Beware of the small "button" rattlers as they pack more bang for the buck.
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Old 01-13-2012, 10:13 AM   #5
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I like mounting biking and hiking. But things like snakes, bears and now mountain lions add to the excitment while recreating out west.

We refrained from mt biking in grizzly areas and hiked mostly during our extended western tour. But it does contribute to elevated focus to our surroundings

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Old 01-13-2012, 11:33 AM   #6
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Snails, Nails & Puppy Dog Tails

When I was young I was quite interested in reptiles of all sorts. I eventually graduated with a Bachelors degree in Education with a major in Biology. My oldest son (now 26) acquired my interest in reptiles from the get-to and currently keeps (in my home as he is just finishing college) a 9’ Red Tailed Boa, 3’ Ball Python, 4’+ Corn Snake, 3’+ Desert King Snake, 4’+ Trans Pecos Rat Snake, 2.5’ Colorado Side Winder (rattle snake), 2’+ Rock Rattle Snake ………. I think those are the current ones that reside in my home.

In the past my son has caught and kept a 5’+ Eastern Diamond Back Rattlesnake, 3’+ Western Diamond Back Rattle Snake, a number of Copper Heads (one female gave LIVE birth to 6 babies a week after capture), a Water Moccasin and a number of others over the years.

The poisonous snakes were NEVER handled. They were captured using a “snake hook” and bagged or put in some secure container, then transferred to an aquarium set up as a “Shift Cage”, which is an aquarium that has a removable partition and two lids. This allows one half of the cage to be accessed while the snake is partitioned off in the other half.

Of all the poisonous snakes the most aggressive ones are the Western Diamond Backs. If not too cold they will warn by rattling and do not hesitate to make a HOT strike every time. The one my son kept for a couple of years would strike the aquarium glass leaving plenty of straw colored venom running down the glass. When warm, that snake sensed when we entered the room and “cocked it's trigger”.

If one just wants to see snakes, and happens to be in Western Texas, drive the country roads between dusk and mid-night. They come out onto the roads as the night temperatures cool to heat their bodies on the still warm roads so that they can more efficiently “go bout their rat killin”. On one night my son and I removed 5 Western Diamond Back rattle snakes and one Black Tailed Rattle Snake from “Ranch Road 2400” so that they would not be run over as most people don’t understand the good they do.

The OP imparted very good information and said that rattle snakes do not always warn before striking. This is especially true on a cool morning when the snakes come out to warm their bodies. Just outside of Sanderson, Texas, one morning while hunting with my son I came upon a Western Diamond Back coiled up on a very low rock ledge, which if I hadn’t been observant might have used as a step while climbing the slope. This snake never gave any warning as my son and I observed it, and we gave it plenty of reason to warn us, but it was only about 65 degrees out. We left it where it was as we had already captured a Western Diamond Back.

All snakes are GOOD, and you enter their environment on THEIR TERMS!
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Old 01-13-2012, 12:20 PM   #7
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I have twice been hiking in NM with a group to have several people walk right over rattlesnakes sunning in the path only to have a someone further back notice the snakes. They do not always warn, but they do not always strike. I am sure you pass many more and never know than you you actually see.
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Old 01-13-2012, 02:19 PM   #8
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Before we moved to Florida, we were warned about the snakes, expected to find them whenever we went hiking, however it took years before spotting a rattlesnake near the trails we hiked. It was in an expected place, along side of a fallen tree, it didn't make any noise and was still there after we passed. In the 40 years here we have seen a number of snakes but non poisonous out number the poisonous by 10 to one. Love to see the black snake around our yard knowing that it is doing ok.
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Old 01-13-2012, 02:58 PM   #9
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Here's a copperhead we had right in the middle of our campsite last Halloween at Washington State Park just south of St. Louis. The blacktop in the top of the picture is the campsite pad and the snake is right at the border between the blacktop and the gravel pad for the picnic table and fire ring.

It was about the size of a pencil and sluggish from the cold so we used a stick to guide it into the lid of the electric skillet and released it out in the woods. They just disappear into the leaves.

It was actually kind of neat to see. That was the first poisonous snake I've ever come across and it was in a place I was least likely to be looking. Later I kind of got the heebee jeebees thinking about it being right there with the dog.
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Old 01-13-2012, 03:16 PM   #10
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Here's my tip for avoiding unfortunate snake encounters:

Turn on the light and look before you .... !

Personal experience, lesson learned, scar on backside to remind me if I ever forget again.
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:35 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by FC7039 View Post
I have twice been hiking in NM with a group to have several people walk right over rattlesnakes sunning in the path only to have a someone further back notice the snakes. They do not always warn, but they do not always strike. I am sure you pass many more and never know than you you actually see.
This is very true. Having about 40 years of trail experience in Az., NM, and Co. I can testify I've seen more rattler's not rattle than rattle. I encourage trail walkers and bushwackers to carry a stout walking stick. The snakes are very sensitive to vibrations and will generally move off the trail. If not, they will move if gently prodded. I do not kill them as they keep the disease carrying vermin population down.
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Old 01-14-2012, 10:18 AM   #12
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My posting #5. I also have a problem with Copperheads that fall from the walls and ceilings...I guess from trying to get into bird nests.
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Old 01-14-2012, 12:49 PM   #13
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While camping in upstate NY at a state park in the Fingerlakes region I almost stepped on a cooperhead while trying to get close to a water station to get a bucket of water.
It saw me first and took off, but the encounter was a close one, within inches. If it hadn't moved, I would have stepped on it for sure.
I just never gave it a thought that I would encounter a dangerous snake in that area of the country. Of course in TX and the western states I expect to see rattlers so I'm alert when at a campground or when hiking.
If I'm not mistaken, I seem to remember that the only state that has no native poisonous snakes is Maine. Is that correct?
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Old 01-14-2012, 03:42 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Ray Eklund View Post

Rattle snakes I have the most experience in my travels. In Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming if I encounter a snake, it is probably a rattle snake.
In New Mexico I see far more bull snakes than rattlers. For whatever reason I have seen more rattlesnakes in the past 2 years, but still a lot less than bull snakes.

I like to let my dogs run, so they have been vaccinated against rattlesnake bite. Won't keep em from getting sick but may keep them alive. Dogs and horses usually survive snakebite.

Beware the deadly hoop snake that grabs it's tail in it's mouth and will roll after you. They prefer to nest in outhouses.

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