Hiking and Rattlesnakes: What You Need to Know

Hiking and Rattlesnakes:  What You Need to Know

As temperatures start to get warmer in the springtime, cold-blooded creatures become more active.  Snakes are no different, and believe it or not, people are more-likely to encounter rattlers in the spring than during any other time of the year.  The good news is that the chances of being bitten by a rattlesnake are a lot less than most people think, that is unless the otherwise skittish snakes feel provoked or threatened.


Dress for the Occasion

If you plan on hiking or camping in rattlesnake country, wearing jeans, boots and thick socks that go up your calves will provide an important layer of protection.  Fangs will have less of a chance of penetrating through the material and into your skin. If they do, chances are that the amount of venom as well as the the risk of infection can be reduced as well.  Remember that most snake bites occur on the lower legs and feet, and most unfortunate encounters occur when people are not careful as they walk.


Safe Walking

The second-most important thing you can do is to walk on well-traveled paths and trails or over areas that do not have a lot of debris or brush on the ground.  Rattlesnakes use them for cover, and it is often very difficult to see a rattlesnake from a distance as their colors tend to blend in well with their surroundings. 

If you are going to be walking through a lot of dried brush, piles of rocks or debris, take a long walking stick with you.  You can use it to test or clear brush ahead of you as well as to startle any snakes that may be hiding beneath.  The trick is to startle them from a distance so they have room to slither away, and the long stick helps to put some space between you and a potential attack.  There is also a good chance that the rattlesnake will attack the end of the stick as opposed to rushing toward you.


Listen and Stop

It's also important that you are listening for that distinctive rattle that the snakes use to ward off potential predators. While they tend to prefer to warning instead of striking, they won't hesitate to bite a perceived threat, and they can strike at lightning-fast speed.  Consequently, make sure that you're listening as you walk, and stop immediately if you hear a rattle or suspect that a rattlesnake is nearby.

This will give you and the snake time to stop and think about the situation.  It gives you time to hone in on its location and back away and around the snake in order to give it a wide berth.  Doing so also calms the snake and shows that you are not a threat. 

Finally, scout your site before setting up your tent or camping hammock to make sure that you're not in a snake-friendly location.  The last thing you want is to wake up, step outside and encounter a startled snake. 

While these are not sure-fire guarantees that you won't get bitten, taking these steps can reduce the chances of encountering problems.  If you plan on hiking or camping in rattlesnake country, make sure that you learn all you can about how to protect yourself, as well as what to do if bitten.