How to Handle a Rattlesnake Bite – and Other Tips

WanderingJustin.com thanks the Maricopa County Park staff for providing this great information on how to handle a rattlesnake bite … or even just a regular encounter with a rattlesnake.

Over the weekend, I was out for a nice hike with my wife at Spur Cross Ranch, a conservation area that’s part of Maricopa County’s excellent system of parks. We wound up on a trail that took us outside the boundary and into some forest land.

There were signs posted at the Spur Cross trailhead reminding hikers to watch for rattlesnakes. It is that time of year to be on the lookout – the snakes are quite active throughout the middle of the day.

We finally had our rattlesnake encounter in a gully with a flowing stream on one side of the trail, and a sheer rock wall on the other. I’d actually been distracted by some bright yellow algae in the stream, and failed to notice the dusty brown snake (possibly a sidewinder) lounging at the water’s edge. I was about five feet away when I first spotted it. I told my wife to hang back, and I retreated so we could figure out how to avoid a rattlesnake bite.

rattlesnake bite
A sidewinder is a cool creature … but that doesn’t make this rattlesnake bite any less dangerous. (wikipedia)

I tried tossing a few pebbles its way. It didn’t care. Ditto for a gentle poke from a stick branch. I even banged a large river rock on the ground, hoping the vibrations would urge it to move. Nada. Zip. This was one stubborn snake. We eventually decided to skirt around it close to the rock wall. The snake was long enough to reach us, but he wasn’t cornered. We slipped past without incident.

This got me to thinking – what would an expert do? That led me to contact the Maricopa County Parks staff, who hooked me up with John Gunn, supervisor of Spur Cross. Here’s what he had to say.

rattlesnake bite

Tips for Avoiding a Rattlesnake Bite

1. Realize that every rattlesnake encounter is different.

2. Consider going back the way you came. That’s not always possible with certain loop hikes or point-to-point hikes.

3. Try throwing a handful of pebbles or some sand near the snake. Consider a gentle poke with a (long!) hiking stick. That’s often enough to encourage a rattler to move. “They have nothing to gain, but everything to lose in an encounter with a human,” Gunn said.

4. Stick to the center of the trail. Stay out of tall grass lining the trail, where rattlers wait for a tasty rodent meal. Bear in mind: Snakes realize “a human leg is not a suitable meal.” Often, you’ll pass them without realizing it – no rattle, no striking. The trouble comes if you don’t see a snake and you step on it. “Then, you get bit like a mouse trap,” Gunn said.

5. Carry a walking stick or trekking pole. Use it to gently fluff any weeds or tall growth alongside the trail. This can also help move a snake and provoke a warning rattle.

6. As the weather gets hotter, snakes will be more nocturnal. So they’ll be less active during daylight, and more active at dusk, night and dawn. Act accordingly.

7. Try not to kill the snake unless there’s no other choice.

8. Keep your brain engaged and realize that not every stick lying in the trail is a stick. Look for the eyes, diamond patterns and, of course, a rattle.

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