A Flair For The Old West Blog
No one wants to run into a rattler face-to-face, but out here in the Southwest, we run into them way too often. Some folks think they can high-tail it away from them, yet others think you can scare them away.
Not true. Snakes can be aggressive whenever they think you are in their territory. so don’t tease or taunt them with a stick. Just back off and go.
Years ago three kids at a rural bus stop were throwing rocks at a Mojave Green rattler that happened by. I watched them from my kitchen window, but after a time I noticed the boys were running. The snake had had enough and was chasing the hooligans down the road. Mojaves have a singularly different attitude than most, either way, it’s safer to just back away.
Killing a rattler on your property is not that easy. Soft sand and their rubbery sleek bodies can make it hard to pin them down with a rake and shovel. It can take two people to get the job done. Be careful if you’re tackling one on your own.
Once you’ve severed the head, that’s when you really need to be careful. Rattlers can still inject venom long after they’re dead and the head is severed from its body. They have this snapping jaw reaction that can go on and on. It’s eerie but true. So by using a long-handled shovel you cut its head off and take the snakehead away … way out of your yard so your dogs won’t bother it, then dig a deep hole and bury it. You don’t need to bag it. Just bury it. In fact, the less you mess with it or get too close to its head, the better.
I nearly lost a good friend because she momentarily forgot about the snapping head, and while it was still, she flipped it onto her shovel with her finger. It reacted to movement and a fang caught her skin. She was in the hospital for three days and lost the tip of her finger due to the decay that the venom causes. She nearly died, and doctors were worried. She was in her 70s and did not have a lot of body mass so she was considered frail, even though she would argue that fact.
You can imagine how I felt when I came back from vacation and learned that she had been trying to save the rattler for me to skin. She knew better than to touch the snakehead but it just wouldn’t stay on the shovel. She said, “The darn thing kept sliding off, so when it stopped moving I just flipped it with my finger. I was so stupid.” She lived in the desert for 45 years, so she wasn’t stupid. Not by any means.
It just so happens that messing with rattlers is for someone with knowledge and a bit of savvy about how they think. I skin rattlers when I can’t get rid of them in a humane way. Some snakes come right back after you release them. So since they have no fear of you, it’s better to just display them on a board or turn their beautiful skins into a fashion statement.
Oh, another thing….
Baby rattlers, the snake variety, don’t always rattle. They’re little and scared. They’ll defend themselves and often their bite is worse than the adults because they don’t have any control over the dosage they can pump through their fangs. Adult rattlers can withhold some of their fluid, while babies just go for broke.
With attitudes like that, it’s best to be as far away from rattlers as possible. Then there’s the time when one happened to cuddle up to my sleeping dog…