You’re hiking in rattlesnake country when you hear the unmistakable “rattle”. Your heart sinks when you look down and see a coiled rattlesnake on the trail ahead of you.
Should you run? Should you fight? Should you soil yourself and say a prayer to your maker?
The good news is that fatal rattlesnake bites are rare in North America. The bad news is that they do occur and if you’re not sufficiently educated about the next steps, you could become part of that statistic.
In the following guide, we’ll show you what to do during a snake encounter while also covering everything from the deadliness of rattlesnake venom to the clothes that could protect you from bites.
Table of Contents
What Do You Do If You See a Snake on a Hike?
If you see a snake on a hike, back away. You don’t need to confirm whether it’s a venomous snake species or not—don’t take the chance. Just give it plenty of room.
The snake is more scared of you than you are of it. That always sounds like a preposterous statement to someone who has a genuine phobia, but it’s true. After all, you’re much bigger and stronger than the snake. Sure, it can bite you and that bite could make you very sick, but in a fight to the death, the snake doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Don’t try to scare them away and don’t throw anything at them. If the snake is scared or agitated, it may attack. Just let it do its thing and slither away.
It should also be noted that shouting at the snake won’t help you. Snakes hear by picking up vibrations, so it makes more sense to stomp your feet. If you are a safe distance away and the snake seemingly hasn’t noticed you, then stomping is fine. But unless you’re very fleet-footed, there’s a good chance it knows you’re there.
Always keep at least 10 steps away from a rattlesnake. That way, you’ll be safe if they attack and it will have plenty of space to leave.
What if a Rattlesnake Won’t Move from the Trail?
If the rattlesnake is staying put, simply bide your time, and wait for it to move away or try to bypass it. If you choose the latter, keep a safe distance and keep your eyes on the snake at all times. If there is no safe route around the animal and you’ve waited long enough, consider turning around and going back where you came from.
What Does A Rattlesnake Sound Like?
A rattlesnake rattle is like a baby’s rattle or a maraca shaken at high speeds. You can hear it yourself here.
This hissing sound is produced when the snake shakes its tail up to 90 times per section. The noise is made by rings of keratin at the top of the snake’s tail.
Researchers have discovered that a rattlesnake can change the rattle’s frequency to make an approaching human think it’s much closer than it actually is. As a result, the source of the rattle might be further away than you realize, but that’s a costly assumption to make and if you hear the rattle you should stop and look for the source.
What Does A Rattlesnake Look Like?
Rattlesnake markings vary by species, but they are usually large creatures (up to 8-feet in length) with thick bodies. Many of the most common rattlesnake species in North America have diamond shapes on their back while others have distinctive blotches.
The tail is usually a giveaway, as it contains rings of keratin, but this is not always present in adult rattlesnakes and it’s usually not there in baby rattlesnakes either.
Do Rattlesnakes Swim?
Yes, rattlesnakes can swim and some species are very adept at it, including the timber rattlesnake.
How Far Can A Rattlesnake Strike?
The exact striking distance depends on the species, but generally speaking, they can strike at two-thirds of their total length, which means that a 6-foot snake can launch itself 4 feet forward.
This is why you need to give them plenty of space when you encounter them on the trail.
When Do Rattlesnakes Come Out?
Rattlesnakes are most active in spring, and this is when most snake bites occur. There is no specific rattlesnake season though and you can encounter them through the summer and fall as well.
Do Rattlesnakes Hibernate?
Yes, rattlesnakes typically hibernate during the winter to stay warm. They may take refuge under porches or in sheds and basements, as well as in animal dens.
How Do You Scare Off Rattlesnakes?
As noted above, the best thing you can do during a rattlesnake encounter is to wait for it to slither away. If it’s in your house, open a nearby door to give it an escape route. If it still doesn’t move, use a long broom or walking stick to encourage it away, but make sure you don’t get too close and keep it away from pets and children.
In 2013, 80-year-old Ernest Burch was bitten by a rattlesnake in his garage when he tried to shoo it with a broom and then fell on top of it. This tragic incident gives you an idea of just how dangerous rattlesnakes can be.
Remain calm. Don’t make any sudden movements. Give the snake somewhere to escape. Only resort to using a weapon if nothing else is working and you can avoid surprising or angering the snake.
Are Rattlesnakes Nocturnal?
During the summer, rattlesnakes are more active at night, but they are not nocturnal. The rest of the year, they are very active during the morning hours and remain active throughout the day.
How Fast Are Rattlesnakes?
Rattlesnakes are not fast creatures and only move at speeds of a few miles per hour. However, they are far from slow creatures and can spring rapidly from a coiled position when they attack.
You can outrun a moving snake, but you likely can’t react quick enough to get out of the way of an attacking snake.
Do Rattlesnakes Climb Trees?
Although some experts have argued that rattlesnakes can climb trees, they rarely do. You don’t need to scamper up a tree to avoid a rattlesnake though. It’s not a bear or a mountain lion and is highly unlikely to chase you. Even if it does, you can run faster than it can.
Are Rattlesnakes Aggressive?
Although rattlesnakes are not aggressive, they will attack if they are threatened or scared. If you toy with this snake or get too close, it could attack. It’s not trying to kill you, nor is it interested in eating you. It is just warning you to stay away, so if you do that in the first place, it shouldn’t attack.
Will Clothes Protect Against a Rattlesnake Bite?
If you’re venturing into rattlesnake territory during a hike, dog walk, or other outdoor adventures, wear thick hiking boots and long loose pants. A rattlesnake bite can go through most clothing, but these items of clothing will give you some protection and could reduce the severity of the bite or the amount of venom that gets through.
Summary: What to Do If You Encounter a Rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes and they can do serious damage if they attack. However, bites from these creatures rarely pose fatal threats and if you watch where you’re going, keep your distance, and wear protective gear where possible, you can avoid serious bites.