10 May A Note About Walking with Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are scary. Seeing or hearing one can induce a primal reaction – sweat and adrenaline and swear words. Sadly we have heard recent reports of mutilated snakes at or near trailheads. We want to remind folks that intentionally harming or killing other living things on the trail is not okay. You can prepare for, and maybe even embrace, the experience of encountering a rattlesnake.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Rattlesnakes play an important role in shrub-steppe ecosystems by helping to control the populations of small mammals.
- Snakes have existed on our planet for tens of millions of years, a lot longer than humans have.
- Rattlesnakes tend to avoid humans. They warn us when we’re too close. They generally strike only when threatened or deliberately provoked. There are exceptions. But the above describes the vast majority of rattlesnake encounters.
- While venomous snakes bite a few thousand people a year in the U.S., the chance of those bites resulting in death is very, very small. Based on general statistics, year after year, you are more likely to die of a lightning strike or even large furniture falling on your head than you are of any snakebite.
During rattlesnake season you can still experience the shrub-steppe safely.
- Wear sturdy shoes, gaiters or long pants. Avoid open-toed shoes.
- Walk with a stick or a trekking pole – not to kill snakes, but to push back brush and grass and tap rocks to ensure the path is clear.
- Stay on trail, and keep your pets on trail. On CCC lands, this is already a requirement. Snakes are a lot easier to spot and avoid on trails than they are bushwhacking through shrubs and grass.
- If you don’t want to encounter rattlesnakes, use trails early in the morning, before the ground heats up. Rattlesnakes are mainly active between temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Watch your step, and walk a little slower than usual.
If you do get bit, the most important things to do are:
- Remain calm.
- Try to rest. Decreasing blood flow will decrease the flow of venom in your body.
- Seek medical help. Call 911. If you don’t have phone service, try to find another hiker to make a call where they can. If you need to walk out, do so slowly, trying to keep your body temperature stable.
- If your dog gets bit, try to carry them out. Do all you can to keep the bite below the heart.
- Swelling of the wound is normal. Do NOT try to restrict it or suck out the venom.