It’s time to debunk myths about rattlesnakes

As I write this on the first official day of summer and the rain is falling, it seems as if the summer rain is running a longevity contest with the winter snow that didn’t end until the end of April.

The undergrowth in the woods is like an Amazon rainforest in places. The weeds in my yard stood 2 feet taller than my Iris when I returned home from my spring gobbler hunting in another county. Those weeds still dominate my yard, and I see no end to it. A shrub I planted a couple years ago that needed just a bit of trimming each year had grown to 10 feet tall by June so now I must have it sawed down. I can tolerate nothing in my yard anymore that has to be clipped and/or trimmed. I can’t envision myself on a ladder trying to clip bushes when I’m in my 90s.

However, most wildlife thrives on such lush growth. Provides lots of browse for deer and cover for fawns but also for predator sneaking up on young wildlife.

It’s also berry-picking time for many and the wild berries are nearly ripe. Huckleberries, the name for wild blueberries will be abundant this year. I’m amazed at how few people are aware that under the bushes are favorite places for rattlesnakes to rest. Rattlesnakes also lie in tall grass and under rocks and logs. There are a number of myths about rattlesnake behavior that lull unsuspecting hikers and berry-pickers into inattention while in the woods.

Rattlesnakes like to lie in the sun all day.

Rattlers are a cold-blooded species meaning their body temperature is exactly whatever their environment’s temperature is. On a chilly, damp day, they may seek the warmth of the sun but when the temperature gets into the 80s and above they would cook if they stayed in the sun . That’s when they seek the shelter of rocks or grass.

Rattlesnakes always shake their rattles when they are about to strike.

This is a very false supposition. I know from personal experience that rattlesnakes do not always sound this warning when agitated. I’ve stepped over rattlers, stepped down right beside them when I did not know they were there, and otherwise come into close contact with them and they never rattled.

One time in mid-August I had hiked into a favorite place to watch for deer. I picked my way into my spot carefully, settled in against the trunk of an old, wild apple tree. There was small patch of grass about 2 feet in front of me but all seemed well.

I’d been sitting there about a half hour when suddenly a black rattler rose up like a cobra out of the grass directly in front of me. This was in the days before restrictions were put on killing rattlers so I jumped up, whipped out my pistol and shot it. I saw the grass moving. So wondering if I had really killed it I began to circle the spot slowly. At one point I stopped to carefully inspect the center of this patch of grass and looked down and found my foot was resting exactly beside another rattler, curled up with its head resting on its body. It made no attempt to strike. I dispatched this one and then decided to find a safer place to watch for deer. Neither of these rattlers had ever rattled at all.

I firmly believe in guardian angels!

Rattlesnakes smell like cucumbers so you’ll have a warning that they are near.

Again, untrue. Perhaps somewhere, at some time, a rattlesnake gave off an odor that someone interpreted as cucumbers but the key word here is “always.”

The fact is that rattlesnakes, like most wildlife, dislike human beings and try to escape their presence whenever they can. But because snakes are usually not in plain sight, a foot coming down close to them will be considered threatening. In such a case perhaps they will rattle, but perhaps they won’t.

Anyone hiking or berry picking especially should be ever-alert for them. Do not step anywhere you haven’t checked out visually first. And stay on good terms with your guardian angel.

My friend Joanie, alerted everyone on Facebook earlier this spring about a really scary episode that happened to her while spring turkey hunting. She was set up, calling to a gobbling tom when she looked up to see a snake stretched out across a tall shrub right above her head. The snake dropped down, barely missing her head and lap and she says no has ever heard such shrieking as erupted from that spot on the farm that morning. The snake crawled back up onto the small tree and laid itself along a limb and peered at Joanie.

By this time she had identified it as a harmless black snake but who wants a 5 foot snake posted right above your head? So she chose another another set-up for calling turkeys.

Snakes in the thick growth are a real danger. Please be alert to it.