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Tips for dealing with rattlesnake encounters, bites

Sheryl McGlochlin - Friday, June 20, 2014

In the 11 years I've been hiking every week, I've only come across 2 rattlesnakes - both on the same hike, on the same day.  It was a very remote trail and I followed all of the guidelines listed below.  Luckily, I noticed them before I stepped on them.  Once I did see them, I stopped, acknowledged them, stayed calm, backed away and went on my way.  It's true that these reptiles really don't want to bother you anymore than you want to bother them.  Remember this advice about Rattlesnakes. Generally the last words spoken by someone right before they were bit:  "Hold my beer and watch this…."
SALT LAKE CITY — During the warm summer months, hikers and campers head to the outdoors in droves. However, this is also the time of year that many snake species are also out and about. If you are worried about running into any poisonous reptiles this summer, here are some tips of what to do.

Krissy Wilson, the native aquatic species coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, gave some tips on the DWR website for how to handle any encounters with rattlesnakes. She said there are eight rattlesnake subspecies in Utah, with the most common being the Great Basin rattlesnake. The most likely area to encounter a rattlesnake is on a rocky, talus slope.

Wilson said that people do not need to be afraid of rattlesnakes, but they do need to be aware and cautious. Rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah law, and it's illegal to harass or kill one.

"They'll usually do everything they can to avoid us," Wilson said on the DWR website. "I can't overemphasize how important it is to give snakes space, to watch where you step, to watch where you place your hands when you sit down, and above all, to resist the urge to harass or kill a snake."

If you do encounter a snake while hiking, Wilson gave the following tips:

  • Remain calm and do not panic or move suddenly.
  • Stay at least 5 feet from the snake. Give the rattlesnake plenty of space.
  • Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you.
  • Alert people to the snake's location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake.
  • Keep children and pets away from the snake.
Most venomous bites occur when people try to kill or harass a snake, Wilson said.

"Usually, the snake is simply moving through the area, sunning itself or looking for a place to hide," she said. "If you leave the snake alone, it will leave you alone."

Sometimes snakes will enter residential areas and go into yards in neighborhoods. If you ever find a rattlesnake in your yard or garage, call DWR officials at 801-538-4700.

There are also several ways to decrease attracting snakes to your yard or house.

  • Reduce the number of places where snakes can find shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all items you should get rid of.
  • Control the rodent populations around your house. Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that attract rodents to yards.
  • Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gopher snakes. Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes from wandering through it.

If you do happen to get bitten by a poisonous reptile, Southwest Partners Amphibian and Reptile Conservation gives several tips of what to do:

  • Get the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible after they are bitten.
  • Remove any restricting materials or items near the bite such as watches, shoes, sleeves, etc., because the infected area will swell.
  • Decrease the activity of the victim and lower the affected area below their heart. This will reduce the spread of venom in the bloodstream.
  • Do not create an incision of any kind near the wound.
  • Do not use a restrictive band or tourniquet.
  • Do not give alcohol or prescriptive drugs because this can increase the spread of venom through the body.
  • Do not put ice on the bite or use electric shock treatments.
By Faith Heaton Jolley


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