Encountering a rattlesnake is a common occurrence, especially if you spend time outdoors in North America. Though it can be a scary experience, especially if you’re unaware or unprepared for the situation. In this video/post, we cover what to do if you encounter a rattlesnake. This includes getting bitten by one, which is serious and does require immediate medical attention.
We recently had two close encounters with rattlesnakes in August 2018 while hiking around Los Angeles. The first one was a large rattlesnake that crossed a narrow hiking trail in the Hollywood Hills moments before we were passing. The second one happened in the Verdugo Hills. We basically got to the end of a trail and decided to head back. The trail was narrow and the vegetation was dense. As we were hiking down, we immediately heard a rattling and hissing sound. We then noticed a rattlesnake coiled up in the brush next to us.
Long story short, we tried to wait it out, but the snake didn’t move. We couldn’t go off the other side of the trail, so we walked past it very slowly, moving as quietly and softly as possible. We both made it past the snake, but it occurred to me that I didn’t know very much about rattlesnakes except that they make a rattling sound and are venomous.
So in this video/post, I want to run through some safety tips on how you can avoid rattlesnakes, as well as advice if you happen to get bitten. If you search online, there’s a lot of weird and contradicting information out there, so I wanted to share what I learned from my research. Even if you don’t happen to live in an area with rattlesnakes, it’s very possible that you may encounter one in your lifetime, especially if you’re visiting US National Parks.
Important facts about rattlesnakes
First off, I want to share some important facts that you should know about rattlesnakes:
Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, which means that they hunt by sensing heat and using their tongues to smell
Since they cold-blooded animals, they are most active during the warmer months of April through October. They can be found in the most of the US, with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, and Maine.
Rattlesnakes rattle when they feel threatened
A lot of people think that rattlesnakes are aggressive, but it’s not true. Rattlesnakes are timid and reclusive animals, and they rattle their tails to warn you to stay away. Most people who are bitten by a rattlesnake have either provoked or accidentally touched it. This can accidentally happen when venturing off a trail.
Not all rattlesnakes inject venom when biting
While you should always get treated with anti-venom if you are bitten, about a third of all rattlesnake bites are “dry bites” and do not contain any venom. This often happens when a rattlesnake is startled and bites out of instinct. Though ironically, baby rattlesnakes tend to be more dangerous since they have less control over their venom and will often inject as much as possible when biting.
Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle their tail
While you might think you’ll always be warned if you encounter a rattlesnake, that it is not always the case. In addition to just being startled, rattlesnakes have been known to stay quiet as a defense mechanism. Some people even think that they have evolved with this adapted behavior since many rattlesnakes are killed when they make their presence known. It’s important to know that you’re not always going to be warned of a rattlesnake in your area.
How to deal with a rattlesnake bite
Suppose you decide to take a break while hiking and sit on a rock. When you reach back, you happen to touch a rattlesnake that bites you. What should you do?
The first thing you should do is relax
If the snake has injected venom into your body, you’ll want to keep your heart rate slow to prevent the venom from spreading throughout your body and bloodstream.
Don’t try to catch the snake
Just try to relax and have someone contact emergency services to get help. You want to avoid hiking as it will speed up your heart rate and increase the spread of the venom. In most cases, a rattlesnake bite means that you’ll need some kind of emergency response. This may include an airlift to a hospital to get anti-venom.
The timeframe for survival can depend on a lot of factors
Most people can survive a couple of days if they are bitten. Though the amount of venom that you received, the location of your bite, and your overall health and immunity can all play a role. You’ll still want to get help as soon as possible. Depending on how far you are from civilization and a phone signal, that could mean either minutes or hours. Either way, your first option should be to have someone else get help while you rest. If you happen to be alone, then you’ll want to try to find help, or worst case scenario, slowly move toward help. This should be your last resort since you don’t want to promote the movement of venom in your bloodstream.
Tips when encountering a rattlesnake
DO: Stay on the trail
If you happen to be in a place that’s known to have rattlesnakes, try to stick to wider trails and be cautious of your surroundings.
DON’T: Listen to music while hiking
It can be tempting to listen to your music while hiking, but it’s very important to have situational awareness. Not just for snakes, but for any situation that you may encounter. Even hearing storms could save you from a flash flood. Use the time to connect with nature and be mindful of your environment.
DO: Hike with others
I see people hiking on their own all the time. I think it’s just safer to do it with someone else or a group. I’ve even seen people hike at night in Los Angeles by themselves in areas where mountain lions are present. Your chances of survival in the event of an encounter or injury is much higher if you’re hiking with others.
DON’T: Elevate the bite wound or use a tourniquet
Both of these techniques can actually cause more harm when dealing with a venomous rattlesnake bite.
DO: Call for emergency services
Not only is it important to get the wound treated, but it’s important to know that not all hospitals have an anti-venom on-hand. Emergency services can help determine the best way to get you to the right hospital for treatment.
DON’T: Suck out the venom
This is old-fashioned and outdated advice that should not be followed. You’re much better off getting the wound treated and taking an anti-venom.
DO: Keep kids close by and on the trail
When we visited Joshua Tree National Park last year, we saw a lot of kids running off the trail, despite seeing a rattlesnake pass in front of us and hide in a bush. I suggest warning kids to stay on the trail and let them know of the potential danger.
DON’T: Approach, provoke, or try to catch snakes
If you encounter a rattlesnake, I suggest waiting it out as long as you can. You do not want to use a stick to move it or intimidate it. The snake is not looking for a confrontation with you, and any attempt to make contact will likely result in the snake feeling threatened.
DO: Check your campsite
Rattlesnakes will often seek heat during the night. If you’re camping or spending time outdoors at night, be especially careful when packing up your tent.
DON’T: Let snakes ruin your love of the outdoors
Rattlesnakes are a part of our environment and an important component of our ecosystem. Just try your best to respect their space and know that if you happen to have an encounter, your odds for survival are very high, especially if you take the right steps to get help.
Have you had an encounter with a rattlesnake? Please let us know in the comment section below. Again, I hope this information doesn’t scare you but instead makes you feel more confident to deal with the unexpected when traveling or exploring the outdoors.