Mike North: Snakes sure to keep hunters rattled

Mike North
colsig Mike North Merced Sun-Star

Squeezing the trigger on a monster buck will get a hunter's adrenaline going, but another sure way of getting an outdoorsman's heart pounding is a rattlesnake.

I've had plenty of close encounters with the reptile -- and they all made my knees tremble -- and that's coming from a guy who has a pet corn snake at home.

Don Moyer, who writes a weekly outdoor column for several northern California newspapers, shot me an e-mail a few weeks ago inviting me to the Merced Rotary Club meeting where he would be speaking about "rattler wrangling."

I replied immediately, accepting the invitation.

I first suspected that Moyer went after rattlers to milk their venom, which can be sold to make antivenom, but he told me that he catches them for landowners to reduce the chance of their getting bit.

Snakes can commonly be found around barns and cabins. "Snakes are where the squirrels are," Moyer said during his presentation. "Snakes eat squirrels, they eat rodents, they eat rats, mice and squirrels -- primarily squirrels around here."

While Moyer goes after the dangerous critters, my hunting party tends to stay away from them. But despite our wishes, we still cross paths with them from time to time.

It was about 10 years ago I was sitting under a shade tree outside our group's hunting cabin on a ranch just south of San Jose. We do most of our hunting in the mornings and evenings, leaving the middle of the day open for other important activities -- playing backgammon, sleeping and telling tall tales of past hunting adventures.

But that day, my hunting buddy decided he'd take advantage of the free time to sight in one of his rifles.

I watched him march up a hill across from our cabin and hammer a target into the hard dusty ground. But as he walked back on a road that passes by an old barn, he came to a sudden stop. He threw down his hammer, staple gun and a post he was carrying.

He hollered, "Snake!" which is enough to get everyone off their cots on the laziest of afternoons.

The oldest member of our group -- an excellent pistoleer -- grabbed his .45, went into the barn and cut loose on the snake.

He hit his mark, but another rattler came out from the barn, where my buddy and his brother were ready with shovels and a 2-by-4. Afterward, my dad and I skinned the bigger rattler out and ate it. The skin still stretches around one of my felt cowboy hats.

But the encounter reminded us to be careful for snakes -- not just when we're hunting, but also when working around the buildings on the ranch we hunt.

I've since invested in high-top snake-proof boots. If a snake does nip at my heels, I'll be safe. An added benefit is they also save my calves from thorny brush in the field.

Our hunting group also makes sure to take a good look on the floor when opening a door to a building on the ranch. Rattlers will often coil up right inside the entryway of an old barn or ice house.

You can also use your ears to listen for the ominous rattle, but keep in mind that young rattlesnakes often won't have any rattles. Those are the most dangerous ones since they can't control their venom output and will release all of it in you, unlike a grown rattler, which will either give you a warning bite or only release a portion of its venom.

Perhaps the best way to kill a snake is to carry a pistol. It needn't be big, even a .22-caliber will do. Just make sure you get birdshot loads instead of regular bullets.

If you want to read about Moyer's adventures, check out his book, "Tight Lines, Observations of an Outdoor Philosopher," at createspace.com/3452025. Just don't get rattled.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453.