Yeah, I hate snakes! When I ran over a dead 3-foot rattler the other day at San Luis Reservoir, I realized I was very glad I wasn’t out tramping through the waist-high grasses surrounding the lake. It brought back some scary memories I don’t care to repeat.
A month ago, Duke Heberling, supervising ranger for San Luis State park, told me that they were seeing more snakes than ever. I believe there are a bunch of reasons why. First, high-water levels reaching the top for the first time in five years obviously drove any dens of snakes that had settled into the previously dry areas up to the current waters edge.
Add to that this wet year’s impact on the grasses and the explosion of growth everywhere and you have the perfect storm for snakes to hide along the shore – or anywhere there is cover. It’s a year where outdoorsmen and families out recreating need to pay extra notice.
I see two things that seem to be big reasons for getting bitten. The first bad choice comes when folks decide to mess with a snake. I’ve heard that about 60-plus percent of bites come from someone trying to kill or capture the snake, with accidental bites actually much less common. Snakes usually will try to flee if you give them the chance, but cornered they can be quite dangerous. From my experience, some people can’t resist trying to prove how brave they are when they get around rattlers.
Another big factor in getting bitten is when people just aren’t paying attention – and doing something stupid like wading through tall grass or brush. I see campers letting their kids roam around high grassy areas like it’s a playground. Campgrounds may seem safe, but they can be snake magnets given the many squirrels attacted by free food. If you set something down for awhile in the wild, carefully inspect it before picking it up, especially at night near shorelines when snakes are out hunting. Boaters also need to be careful stepping onto shore, while also remembering that snakes can swim very well and may even try to get onboard – as I’ve encountered!
When I think of snakes, high water and tall shoreline grasses I go back to an old experience at Don Pedro Reservoir one early spring as we were about to launch. As I waited for Dad, two young guys were planting trees around the ramp area. One of them shouted out to his buddy that he could see a huge rattlesnake sunning itself about 40 yards away on a small, adjoining prominence covered with heavy brush and high weeds.
So one guy pipes up that he’s going to go out and kill that snake since it was so close to the ramp. At least that’s the reason he gave as he confidently headed to the point. Working his way closer, with his buddy providing instructions, I shuddered as he pushed through heavy brush with his shovel held high. Bravado might have been an appropriate word to describe his attitude! But that’s when the wheels started coming off!
“Hey, I can’t see the snake anymore!” the observer yelled to his stalking buddy. “Be careful, he could be anywhere now!” he cautioned as the now very worried co-worker inched forward in the waist-high foliage, frantically looking in all directions with the shovel still in the air. It reminded me of a horror movie where the victim just can’t resist opening the creaky door to see what’s behind it … nooo… run!
Suddenly the guy in the brush launches like a rocket, screaming while simultaneously bringing the shovel head down like a jackhammer. I bet he hit the ground with that shovel a dozen times before touching down. The rattler had been right under his feet and it was a monster! Crestfallen and shaken, he admitted his snake-hunting days were over.
In most cases, letting them get away is the best bet, if you have the choice! It’s snake season. Be on guard! Never give up!