Be Rattlesnake Safe this Spring


Rattlesnake [Image from the Department of Fish and Wildlife]

Press release:

With the coming of spring and warmer weather conditions, snakes of many species are through hunkering down, making human encounters with these elusive creatures more likely. Although most native snakes are harmless, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recommends steering clear of the venomous rattlesnake  – and knowing what to do in the event of a strike.

Rattlesnakes are widespread in California and are found in a variety of habitat throughout the state from coastal to desert. They may also turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room or not deliberately provoked or threatened. Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.

On rare occasions, rattlesnake bites have caused severe injury – even death. However, the potential of encountering a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors. The California Poison Control System notes that the chances of being bitten are small compared to the risk of other environmental injuries. Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors, but there are precautions that can and should be taken to lessen the chances of being bitten.

The dos and don’ts in snake country

Rattlesnakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found in urban areas, on riverbanks and lakeside parks and at golf courses. The following safety precautions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a rattlesnake.

  • Be alert. Like all reptiles, rattlesnakes are sensitive to the ambient temperature and will adjust their behavior accordingly. After a cold or cool night, they will attempt to raise their body temperature by basking in the sun midmorning. To prevent overheating during hot days of spring and summer, they will become more active at dawn, dusk or night.
  • Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting long pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through brushy, wild areas. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively.
  • Children should not wear flip-flops while playing outdoors in snake country.
  • When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
  • Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see. Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
  • Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
  • Be careful when stepping over doorsteps as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
  • Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
  • Do not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom.
  • Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
  • Leash your dog when hiking in snake country. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccines and what to do if your pet is bitten.

Rattlesnakes belong to a unique group of venomous snakes known as pit vipers and the rattlesnake is the only pit viper found in California. The copperhead and water moccasin also belong to this group; however, they are most commonly found in the southern, southeastern and eastern part of the United States. The term “pit” refers to special heat sensors located midway between the snake’s eye and nostril. These special thermoreceptors detect differences in temperature which help the snake pinpoint prey while hunting. The term “viper” is short for Viperidae, the family in which scientists categorize the rattlesnake.  Pit vipers are venomous and rely on the use of venom to kill prey to eat. The rattlesnake’s prey of choice is chiefly rodents and other small mammals and this is an important factor in terms of keeping rodent populations in an ecosystem in check.

Keeping snakes out of the yard

The best protection against rattlesnakes in the yard is a “rattlesnake proof” fence. The fence should either be solid or with mesh no larger than one-quarter inch. It should be at least three feet high with the bottom buried a few inches in the ground. Slanting your snake fence outward about a 30-degree angle will help. Keep vegetation away from the fence and remove piles of boards or rocks around the home. Use caution when removing those piles – there may already be a snake there. Encourage and protect natural competitors like gopher snakes, king snakes and racers. King snakes actually kill and eat rattlesnakes.

What to do in the event of a snake bite:

Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a cell phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in. In the event of a bite:

  • Stay calm but act quickly.
  • Remove watches, rings, etc., which may constrict swelling.
  • Transport the victim to the nearest medical facility.
  • For more first aid information, please call the California Poison Control System at (800) 222.1222.

What you should NOT do after a rattlesnake bite:

  • DON’T apply a tourniquet.
  • DON’T pack the bite area in ice.
  • DON’T cut the wound with a knife or razor.
  • DON’T use your mouth to suck out the venom.
  • DON’T let the victim drink alcohol.

More information about rattlesnakes can be found at the following websites:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Habitat and Relationships:

UC Davis Integrative Pest Management:



  • Thanks for this calming article.
    I’ve hosted a resident rattlesnake under my outdoor bath tub for several years. About 20 years ago, one of my cats was bitten; she crawled under my shed and reappeared 3 days later, thirsty but none the worse for wear. My daughter’s pony took a bite on the nose once while camping on Snow Mountain; I put blunted 1/2″ garden hose up her nose and taped it in place through her mouth, not around the jaw, so she could eat and drink. When her nose swelled (massively) she still had an airway. Horses don’t know to breathe through their mouths. It took about 3-4 days to resolve.
    An article in National Geographic said 9 out of 10 bites are “dry” – no poison wasted – and well treated with standard care for a puncture wound. It used to be that more people had severe reactions to the anti-venom than the bite itself. I don’t know if this is still true.
    I hope the knee-jerk slaughter of these beautiful (but paranoid) animals someday ends. They just need their space, as do we all. And they are the best rodent control, all time.

  • I get my dog vaccinated.They will normally live even without it but it helps a ton.

  • Covelo or busted

    Rattle snakes are paranoid?… Humans are the most paranoid card in that hand……….Hobbs would call that anthropomorphizing.

  • I see a snake I go in the opposite direction .snakes give me the Willy’s

  • I also heard that the baby rattlers are the worst to be bitten by. I was bitten by a water moccasin when I was 9 down in Louisiana at my Gramma’s. She got something from the swamp where she lived and made a concoction from it and put it on the bite. I remember really being out of it for a few days. I’m just thankful that she was a herbalist that the Choctaw taught all about all the plants in the swamp. My Grand father was a Choctaw. She did cut where the bite was. I could never have a pet so snakes and baby alligators were my pets until my Mom would find out then she took a hoe and chopped the snakes up and threw the baby alligators back out into the swamp.

    Just be respectful of all things in Nature.

  • Thanks for sharing this reminder Kym. Nice to read that the safety of the snake is considered too.
    I’ve seen many Rattlers around my land and homestead. When youths lived here I would kill them if near the home. These days I generally let them go. Understand they will catch the gophers too!
    There is a device to catch/move them with. It’s a (PVC) pipe and a loop of surgical tubing in it, the looped part protruding from the end, to snare them, so that they can be moved.
    Who can explain a snake catching device better than that? (Troll reply: “Anybody!!” :).

    • Covelo or busted

      An easy way to catch any snake is with a rake, preferably one w/ many tines, as is a spring leaf rake… have your chilly bin ready and open,and 2 large gunggy cords ready…. the snake will wrap itself in the tines of your rake after you explain the 357 alternative. Shake him/ her off into the chilly bin, close the lid, double wrap w the chilly bin with the gungy cords, Put in the boot of the rig and drive far away … but close to an unloved neighbor, dump the cooler.

    • Same idea: Broom handle threaded with clothes line. The snake cannot get purchase when suspended, so NO need to squeeze it excessively. Then put it in an clean trash can, release the loop, take out the handle, and cover with the lid.
      What happens next is up to you.

  • Honeydew Bridge Chump

    Golf balls work great for snake control.
    Simply grind egg shells over the ball, a snake will eat it, then die because it can’t digest it.

    It’s better to leave them be, but if small children are around golf balls are a good idea.

  • rattlers taste great BBQd
    if you have to kill them
    just make sure to burry the head cause they will bite you hours and hours after its cut off

    • Yep, that too…
      The last one I ate reared up and ACCURATELY STRUK AT ME, and it was already headless and skinless! I’m thinking that their ability to sense another presence goes far, far deeper that smell and sight. They are deaf, but very sensitive to vibration…like boots stomping.

  • I’ve lived respectfully w rattlers for many years. Sing a song as you enter your garden or make sound and they will move away or alert you with their rattle. Like blackbbear they want no fight w you! Yes the pvc pipe w rope loop out the end works to catch their head, pull tight and safely move them. Have done it a few times. Let some idiot grow my garden a couple years ago. The coward thought himself a man to shoot 2 rattlers that year. Next year I had my first rat damage ever.

  • Smaller rattlers can be more dangerous than larger ones.They Strike quicker and give you less of a warning. Don’t kill them unless you absolutely have to.They help to keep the vermin down.
    Eureka could really use a few rattle snakes. ( for the human vermin )

    • Sadly, to the best of my knowledge they don’t make Rattlers big enogh to handle the Human??? vermin found on the streets of You Freaka!!!

  • I’m scared to death of snakes!! They keep away from me,I sure hell stay away from them. I know where they like to hide so I avoid those areas. Beautiful morning in HUMBOLDT

  • Kingsnakes eat rattlesnakes.

  • Wow Kim, great pic !!!

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