How to handle a wild snake
Unless you’re living in Hawaii or New Zealand, where they don’t have any snakes at all, you’ll eventually come across these creatures on your property. But despite the fear we have in our hearts for what’s generally considered an evil creature, snakes aren’t all that monstrous. In fact, they’re likely far more afraid of you. Though you do still need to be careful, because many snakes are poisonous, and if they feel threatened or backed into a corner, they will fight back (like any wild animal you come across).
Generally, people will tell you the best thing to do is leave it be. But practically, that’s not always a good idea. Snakes like warm sunny spots that hold their heat during the day, making the concrete around your property and the foundation of your home an ideal living space. We had a clutch of baby rattlesnakes emerge one morning from a crack in the side of our home, and I can tell you this, it’s not what you want around your dogs and family.
Knowing how to handle wild snakes safely is of critical importance.
Pay attention where you walk
Instead of wandering around with your eyes glued to the phone, pay attention where you’re putting your feet. Especially if you’re in an area where snakes are a common sight, and it’s a nice sunny day. You’ll find they like to sun themselves in the center of a path, which is usually right in the middle of where you’re planning to walk.
Get boots and thick pants
If you do happen to step on a snake, their instant reaction will be a warning bite. Usually, this will be targeted on the foot that just stepped on them, and with thick pants and good boots, you’ve got a good chance the bite will never puncture the skin. It’s frightening as it happens, but my gaiters saved me from a hospital trip in this exact situation.
Recognize the poisonous ones
Some species of snake are immediately obvious, like a rattlesnake and the tell-tale rattle. But others, not so much. Take the time to learn about the common species in your area, so you can immediately recognize the poisonous ones. If you get bitten, your chances of survival increase dramatically if the paramedics know which antivenom to administer.
Don’t disturb their habitats
Behind one of our sheds is a stretch of property we’ve dubbed snake island. It’s overgrown with weeds, and there’s sheet after sheet of roofing iron propped up on pallets awaiting our next project. It’s almost a perfectly created habitat for snakes. Think about your property, and where snakes might be living, and steer clear of it as best you can.
Slow and steady movements
Think about it. You’re quite a bit larger than the snake you’ve just come across, and the reality is that they are much more frightened of you. It can be startling when you first see the snake, but try to control yourself and back away slowly. Sudden movements might scare the snake into action. You want to put some distance between the two of you.
Moving the snake
If the snake needs to be moved, my advice is to find a length of branch that gives you quite a bit of distance from a potential bite. Often, a couple of good prods will be enough to encourage a snake to “move along” and it’ll slither off into the undergrowth. Or you could always call wildlife rescue to come collect it and shift it to another area.
When there’s no other option
As much as I hate to kill a living creature from god’s green earth, because of the close proximity to nature that we share nature on our homestead, often we’re left with no choice. I don’t like doing it, because snakes keep the local rat population under control, but when they get too close to our home it puts my family at risk, especially if they’re poisonous.
I’ve got two preferred methods when it comes to dispatching a snake.
The most reliable way, is much like killing a zombie in a horror flick. You’ve got to take it off at the head. I won’t let my kids near as I do it, as there is a chance it goes wrong and I will get bitten. Look around for a spade, one with a flat cutting edge. Shovels won’t work, as you won’t be able to pin the snake down. Then simply use the length of the handle to trap the snake at the back of the neck, and push down hard. The blade of the spade should break its spine, press harder and it’ll separate the head from the body, killing the snake.
Alternatively, you can shoot it. This is what I do if a snake seems particularly aggressive and I don’t like my chances of using a spade. Using my shotgun to blast it full of shot. From close range the shot will generate a similar end result, either separating the snakes head or killing it instantly depending on your aim. Just be sure that any ricochets will not bounce back from the concrete or rocks the snake is lying on to injure yourself. It’s quick and over fast for the snake, and you can always step in and finish the job so there is no suffering at all.
Once you’re done, be careful in collecting the head. The fangs will still contain venom, and can still cause a bite, even though it’s been separated from the snake’s body. Wrap it up, and burn it on the fire, to be sure your kids or dog don’t get into it.
Snakes are a common occurrence once you get into rural areas, and knowing how to deal with a wild snake is a bit of knowledge that’s worthwhile to gain. Nine times out of ten you can simply let them be, or have someone move them to a safer location, but if that’s not possible you’ve also got the option to dispatch it yourself. Be sensible with the information today, and stay safe out there.