It is that time of year again when vipercated tongues flick from spade shaped heads and emerge from their dens in search of food and the warmth of the sun. Yep, it is rattlesnake season.
The Western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is the indigenous species of rattler here in Oregon, but we are also home to the Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis oreganus) and the Great Basin rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus). All are equally deadly and, therefore, dangerous. Pets, livestock and curious children are especially at risk as they move low to the ground and into the dark, tight places that these creatures prefer. They are often encountered in brush, along fence lines, near water and in rocky areas. I have even seen them crawling up trees. It is very worthwhile to be especially diligent in your goings about. Rattlesnakes can literally show up anywhere. In my experience the hotter the temperature, the more active these snakes become.
Whenever you see a snake, it’s easy to startle, but knowing how to tell a snake from its markings can be especially useful if you can’t see its head or its tail. The gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), also called bull snake or blow snake, is frequently mistaken for a rattler due to their similar markings. They do bear a close resemblance at first glance but are typically much longer and slender in build in addition to having no rattles on their tail nor a heart-shaped head. These gopher snakes are not vipers, though, and frequently kill and eat rattlesnakes when the rodent hunting is poor, so they get a pass from me on that tenet alone.
It isn’t always practical to carry a firearm day to day, but for those who can I feel a handgun with snake shot loads to be the best bet against these ambuscading leviathans. CCI makes shot loads for .22 LR, .22 WMR, .38/.357, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, .44, and .45 Colt just to name a few. Shotguns, if handy, are also quite effective. I’ve occasionally used rifles ranging from .22 to .45-70 to dispatch these snakes since they were the weapon of opportunity. Shovels, axes or common garden tools like rakes or hoes can also be very effective. Usually the longer the handle, the better.
If you’re of no mind to kill these poisonous snakes, avoid them at all costs. Rattlers can spring twice their length in distance to strike and pump their venom, and they take very little encouragement to do so. Avoid the aforementioned areas and always look before you leap. Years ago a fella about my age in school was swimming across the John Day River and, reaching blindly up on the rocks on the opposite shore to pull himself out of the water, was bitten on the back of his hand by an obscured rattlesnake. Luckily he was able to get to help. If you are stricken, do not try — or have anyone else try — to suck out the poison. Please seek medical attention immediately.
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