Just about every outdoorsman has had at least a few run-ins with a rattlesnake and has some scary stories to share.
Mine: I was fishing alone at Millerton upriver by Temperance Flat in rising water when this small snake came swimming toward the boat trying to get on. The tiny rattler was determined to somehow get on my rear deck and I finally had to dispatch it. In the next three hours I had another four small rattlesnakes do the same thing. They were everywhere, it seemed. All I could figure was that a nest had gotten flooded in the rising water upstream and they had come swimming down the river where they found a convenient floating island – me! At one point I got out on shore and I literally walked over another small rattler hiding in a clump of grass. The little ones are the worst since they don’t warn you and they usually inject all of their venom.
Then there are folks who try to capture dangerous snakes. Trying to capture them or kill them puts us up close – right where it gives them an added advantage. Guess that’s why about 60% of bites come from trying to capture or kill a snake rather than leaving it alone.
My worst experience with someone capturing a snake for fun came many years ago. A neighbor caught a big rattler on his ranch, put it in a five-gallon can in the back of his pickup and brought it over to our ranch to show us a “big nightcrawler.” Somehow the snake got out while we were talking. Tore the truck apart for an hour looking for it – nothing, He and my dad took the truck and went fishing the next day – no sign of the snake. The following morning as our neighbor got in to take his daughter to school, there was the big rattler sitting on the back of the seat right behind his daughter. He managed to kill it before it struck her. It had been in the cab the whole time and had climbed in the open window from the truck bed.
Playing around with a rattlesnake and antagonizing it are bad ideas for most of us. However, it also seems that a lot of folks think that wandering around in the brush or letting their kids do so without supervision is safe. Campgrounds can be a magnet area for feeding snakes due to all the squirrels attracted by food. I’ve seen big rattlers right around regular campsites, so don’t let your guard down – especially at night.
I was upriver at Millerton three years ago and ran into some folks who let their 1½-year-old girl play on a big sandy beach. A huge rattler had slowly slithered along the water’s edge in plain sight, camouflaged by small rocks, and came up to where the child was playing in front of them. The mother looked up as the coiled snake was about to strike, jerking the girl away just in time. They were shaken and dismayed because they thought it was safe.
Keep your eyes open. Leave snakes alone if possible.
Never give up!