Sometimes you need to be prepared for encounters with wildlife.  I was reminded of that recently and wanted to share some information on how to handle one particular type of animal:  the rattlesnake.  The goal is to educate so you know how to deal with rattlesnake encounters in a manner that protects both you and the animal.

The story begins a few days ago when I was visiting my parent’s house for a family dinner.  They live on 2.5 acres in the desert outside of Casa Grande, Arizona which is on the northern side of the Sonoran Desert.  After the sun set, I was getting ready to go back home to Phoenix by loading my car.  I heard a noise and stopped for a second, then I heard the same noise again.  It was a rattlesnake like this one:

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Since I could not see it, I went to the front of the house to get back inside.  I had no desire to get bit by a snake after all.  However, what happened next was an example of what not to do in such a situation.

My dad decides he needs to see where the snake is.  So he takes a light and grabs a hoe from the (open) garage in search of the snake.  He finds it underneath a bush at the edge of the driveway and proceeds to shine his light on it.  The snake starts rattling again, mostly because it is angry and wants to be left alone.  As it slithers out to find some other place to hide, my dad bangs the hoe in its general direction and the snake coils up and gets angry.  By this time my mom, my sister, and myself are yelling at my dad to get away from the snake.  After all, my dad is in his mid-seventy’s and not in good health right now, so a snakebite could prove fatal.  However, my dad doesn’t want the snake to get into his new truck so he keeps shining his light on it.

By now, both my sister and I decide we need to call the fire department so they can remove the snake safely.  I call and tell the dispatcher about the situation, my parent’s address, and the type of snake we found.  All the while my dad is still annoying the snake, even though it is now hiding under his new truck.  Eventually, the fire department comes out, catches the snake, and puts it into a 5-gallon pail for removal.  My dad finally turns off the flashlight and puts the hoe away, much to our relief.

This situation ended well, but could have gone wrong in an instant.  Here is what you should do if you encounter a rattlesnake:

  • Remember that rattlesnakes want to avoid contact with humans, if you leave the snake alone it will leave you alone.
  • If you have pets in the vicinity, get them away from the snake.
  • Don’t back the snake into a corner, cornered snakes are dangerous because they feel threatened.
  • Do not threaten or harass the snake, leave it alone.
  • Call a professional (ex. Fire Department) to safely remove the snake.

Key takeaway from the National Parks Service:

Rattlesnakes are only dangerous to people when they fail to respect the snake’s personal space. Rattlers typically strike at human beings when they feel threatened by them. Statistics show that most bites occur when a person provokes a snake by either accidently stepping on one or purposely trying to capture, harass, or kill the animal. Statistics show that more than 65 percent of rattlesnake bites are provoked by the person who is bitten.

If you ever encounter a rattlesnake, don’t provoke it and you are likely to walk away from the encounter without any bites.  Otherwise, you take your chances…