How and why to kill a rattlesnake
Canebrake Rattlesnake : Coiled and ready to strike
I knew by the sound of the bark my Jack Russell terrier had cornered another rattlesnake. She hates snakes of any kind but especially canebrake rattlers. This part of southern Georgia is the perfect environment for snakes of many kinds. This includes many non-venomous and venomous species. Because of the many swamps and forested areas along with food crops being grown by the thousands of acres, there are plenty of rodents and other small animals for the reptiles to feed upon.
All of the snakes have their niche in the food chain with most being harmless and beneficial to humans. The species include corn snakes, cottonmouth moccasins, the rare indigo snake, and of course, the king snake. There are also many other species of water and garden variety snakes occasionally encountered in everyday circumstances. I enjoy observing these snakes and try to avoid causing them harm in any way.
So you see, I do not hate snakes, I am fascinated by all forms of life and respect their place in our world. But we have to draw a line when it comes to the personal safety of our families and pets. Rattlesnakes are in no danger of becoming scarce in this part of the world and as a matter of fact, their numbers seem to be increasing year by year. At one time the diamondback rattlesnake was the most encountered of the two species, the other being the canebrake, but now it is just the reverse.
The boll weevil eradication program in Georgia seemed to eradicate more than just boll weevils. Many species of animals, insects, and fish were affected by the chemicals used to eliminate the boll weevil from the many cotton fields in the area. One of the most affected species was the gopher tortoise. This gentle creature inhabits the sandy ridges common to this area. But since the program was initiated the once well populated ridges are now a ghost town of abandoned burrows. There are some tortoises left but their numbers have been decimated. One can only hope they will survive and multiply.
Unlike the canebrake rattlesnake, which can live in abandoned pipes and under various other kinds of debris, the diamondback rattlesnake needs a burrow to live in. The loss of the gopher tortoises and their burrows has caused the canebrake rattler to replace the diamondback as the dominant rattlesnake in my area. Though not as large as the diamondback, the canebrake seems to be faster and more elusive. Both are extremely dangerous no matter what snake aficionados may say.
It is not uncommon to encounter several canebrake rattlers a day. Unless homeowners kill these creatures when they are found they run the chance of stepping on them accidentally and being bitten. Children and pets are also at risk playing outdoors, even at the doorsteps of their own homes. Sure, these troublesome reptiles could be relocated to another area but where? Not only does this require capturing them without getting struck but also storing the snakes until finding time to transfer them to another area. I once sold rattlesnakes to a local buyer but now there is no one to sell them to. I would much rather the rattlesnakes be used for obtaining anti-venom than having to kill them, but unfortunately reality dictates the latter solution.
People who live in the many different parts of the U.S. naturally have different views concerning killing venomous snakes and I try to understand how their own local conditions may affect one’s opinions. I hope my views are considered realistically by these same individuals whose experiences may differ from mine. When I receive hate mail from those who disagree with my snake killing techniques I take in consideration the part of the country these people live, especially those residing in relatively snake free residential and other urban sections of many states.
The sub-tropical southern zone of Georgia makes it almost impossible to keep undergrowth clear enough to spot rattlesnakes easily. A person with a job requiring outdoor work such as farmers or construction workers are always at risk of coming into contact with rattlesnakes. If the rattlesnake has found a source of food in the area they will certainly frequent the same spots. If you see one and let it go you will be in danger of encountering this same snake when you aren’t aware he is underfoot. Rattlesnakes are creatures of habit and they will travel the same paths as long as the food supply remains constant.
Although I personally know of no one killed by a rattlesnake bite, I do know of some people being hospitalized with serious problems caused by a bite. Many dogs and cats have been killed by rattlesnakes in this area and I am constantly worried about letting my dog run free through the woods and fields. But so far Ally, my Jack Russell, has evaded the fangs of many rattlers. She is as fast as lightening, unlike many of the larger dogs common to the area.
Today she has found a five foot canebrake in our back yard. I have problems keeping her away from the deadly snake as she will dive right in and grab it if given the chance. If she is lucky enough to grab the snake without being bitten she will shake it furiously and break its neck. I prefer to dispatch the snake myself and save Ally from a possible bite. I wonder how many she has killed when I wasn’t around.
As you can tell by the photos, the rattlesnake was already coiled up and in the classic striking pose. If a rattlesnake has time they will always assume this position. But they do not have to coil up to strike. If stepped upon or threatened they will strike immediately and not wait to coil. The coiling up is a defensive posture designed to make themselves a smaller target to animals or humans. The buzzing of the rattles is a nervous reaction and also a warning to stay away.
Although dangerous, rattlesnakes are very easy to kill. Any object with a long handle will do. I have killed them with a variety of utensils. Sticks, hoes, golf clubs, and in this particular instance, a rake. A sharp blow struck just behind the neck will usually do the trick. Striking the head repeatedly will also suffice to dispatch the snake. The snake will continue to move for a while after death but this is common. The muscles expand and contract for as much as an hour in some cases. Do not touch the head or fangs as the venom is still present and lethal.
The rake did the trick with one blow and the danger was over for now. The latter part of the rattler was a black color and it had thirteen rattles. Stretched out, it was as long as the rake itself. This was a particularly aggressive creature and it smelled of rotted meat. This is something else most books won’t tell you, a rattlesnake will give off an offensive odor at times.
I do not recommend killing all venomous snakes, just those that could cause injury to your family, friends, or pets. In most cases man can co-exist with animals, but this is not always possible. Use your common sense but by all means be careful when attempting to kill any venomous snake.
There are special tools and techniques involved in how to catch a rattlesnake. Make sure you know what to do before attempting the capture of this dangerous reptile! Also, you can learn how to make a snake catcher of your own!
Another canebrake on the road
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