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Rattlesnake Encounters – 5 Top Prevention Tips

In: Wilderness Safety

Rattlesnakes live in many places and habitats in the Western Hemisphere, from mountains to deserts and plains. Rattlesnakes are highly specialized, venomous reptiles with large bodies and triangle-shaped heads.They are one of the most iconic groups of North American snakes due to the characteristic “rattle” found at the tip of the tail.

Things I Have Learned about Rattlesnakes
One of the things I have learned about rattlesnake in the wilderness is that they are not interested in biting hikers. Whether you’re walking down the trail, sleeping under the stars or taking a sneaky number two behind a not-quite-big-enough bush, snakes want to avoid a potential encounter just as much as you do. That being said, snakes will protect themselves if the need arises.

Rattlesnake bites usually happen due to human carelessness or lack of awareness. For example in Little Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, rattlesnakes are frequently spotted near food preparation and storage areas. These areas are most likely attracted by the rodents that patrol for food scraps and crumbs. Snakes are attracted to rodents and are often spotted near food and storage areas.  If not careful, rattlesnake bites can occur due to lack of awareness.  Here are some of the helpful safety and preventions tips when dealing with rattlesnake encounters.

Rattlesnake eating a gopher.

Rattlesnake eating a gopher.  Little Yosemite Valley.  Yosemite National Park, Ca.

1. Keep Your Distance

Without being paranoid, pay attention to the trail ahead of you. When crossing logs/blowdowns, whenever possible step on, rather than over obstacles. Watch where you step or reach with your hands. Try not to put your hands anywhere you cannot see (e.g. ledges, hollowed out logs). Stand still if you think you hear a snake, until you’ve located the snake; then move away. Beware of snakes without a rattle. Baby rattlesnakes don’t have rattles and adult rattles can break off. Most snakes will slither off when they feel the vibrations of your footsteps. Don’t throw rocks, prod at it with a stick, or try to pick it up. This will only serve to agitate the snake, and possibly trigger a defensive response.

2. Clothing

The majority of snake bites are to the ankle/lower leg area, followed by the hands. If the path is overgrown or you are bushwhacking off-trail, it is a good idea to wear long, loose-fitting pants or gaiters. These items won’t completely protect you from snake bite, but they can reduce the amount of venom that is injected.

3. Trekking Pole

It is handy to have a trekking pole/sturdy stick in order to push back vegetation as you are moving along.

4. Footwear

Wear shoes/boots rather than sandals when hiking in snake country.

5. If A Bite Occurs

If a bite occurs, determine if a dry-bite occurred (with no venom injected) by assessing pain, swelling, and muscle twitching. Those symptoms will occur if venom has been injected. Immobilize and gently wash the bite area with soap and water and keep it lower than the heart. If possible, stay put to avoid moving the muscle, which would spread the venom. Mark the area of the swelling with a pen with the time on it. Remove any jewelry that might constrict swelling. Do not cut the wound with a knife.

Do not pack the bite area in ice. Do not suck out venom by mouth (avoid the common Sawyer Extractor). Do not use a loose constricting band around the bite to minimize venom spreading because this can be detrimental. Get to a hospital as quickly as possible for anti-venom to be administered.


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