You’re a hiking aficionado–you love getting out in nature and exploring the world around you. But what if you encounter a rattlesnake while on the trail? In this article, we’ll talk about what to do if you see a rattlesnake while hiking, and why there’s no reason to be afraid as long as you keep your distance.
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How Do You Protect Yourself From Rattlesnakes While Hiking?
No one wants to get bit by a rattlesnake. Fortunately, there are things you can do and precautions you can take to keep yourself safe while out hiking.
Follow these safety tips to protect yourself from rattlesnakes:
- Wear boots: Most people get bit when they accidentally step on rattlesnakes, so proper foot protection is imperative. Wear good-quality hiking boots that completely cover your feet and protect the ankles.
- Wear loose-fitting pants: Rattlesnakes often strike the legs below the knees as well. If you’re wearing thick but loose-fitting pants, there’s a good chance the rattler will end up biting your pants instead of your flesh.
- Don’t hike alone: There are many reasons why it’s good to have a hiking buddy when you’re out in the wilderness. One of those reasons is so they can help you get to safety in the event you are bitten and begin experiencing symptoms.
- Stay on the trail: You’re less likely to encounter rattlesnakes if you stay on well-traveled paths with a greater amount of foot traffic. Rattlesnakes tend to avoid people if possible, so your chances of taking them by surprise and provoking an attack are much higher if you leave the paths and encroach on their territory.
- Check everything: Rattlesnakes like to hide in things like camping gear, hollow logs, and under rocks. Always check your gear and any potential hiding places along the trail–for example, if you’re going to sit down on a log to rest, first move it aside with a stick to make sure there are no rattlers hiding under it.
- Listen for a rattling noise: It’s important to be aware of your surroundings, and listening for the telltale rattling of a rattlesnake’s tail is often one of your first signs of danger. Keep your ears open, and as soon as you hear the rattling, attempt to locate the snake visually so you can keep your distance.
- Watch for rattlesnakes: Rattlesnakes don’t always coil up and start rattling before they strike, so it isn’t enough just to listen for them. Rattlesnakes can be difficult to see because they camouflage well; but keep your eyes open and don’t get close if you see a rattler crossing your path.
What to Do If You See a Rattlesnake on a Hike
This excellent article from Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources outlines what you should and should not do if you encounter a rattlesnake. Let’s take a look at some of the do’s and don’ts.
What to Do:
- Stay calm: The most important thing you can do if you see a snake is to remain calm and avoid panicking. If you panic, you may forget what to do, and your behavior may startle the snake and prompt an attack that you could have avoided had you remained calm.
- Keep your distance: Rattlesnakes can lunge forward as much as half to two-thirds their own body length when striking. If you see a rattlesnake, whether it’s coiled and rattling or simply slithering across the path, try to stay at least 5 feet away from it to avoid being attacked.
- Back away from the snake: If you’re already too close by the time you see the snake, don’t get any closer. Instead, begin backing away slowly, keeping your eyes on the snake and attempting to avoid frightening it.
- Leave the area: As soon as you are a safe distance away, turn and get further away as quickly as possible. Stay alert for other snakes in the area as you are leaving.
What NOT to Do:
- Throw things at the snake: Throwing rocks or other objects at the snake will not keep it away; instead, you may provoke an attack, as the snake may feel threatened and unable to escape.
- Attempt to kill it: Killing rattlesnakes is illegal in many regions, and attempting to do so will require you to get closer to the snake–potentially putting yourself at greater risk of being bitten.
- Tease or provoke it: You should never do anything to tease or provoke a snake, especially if it’s already coiled up and ready to strike. Rattlesnake venom can be deadly; rattlesnakes should be respected, not taunted.
For more information on avoiding rattlesnakes when out on the trail, check out this video.
How Do You Keep Snakes Away While Hiking?
Rattlesnakes aren’t very aggressive–they will tend to run away if they see or hear you coming. There really isn’t anything you can do to make them run away–they will do this on their own if you give them the opportunity.
The best thing you can do is be aware of their presence and show them respect if you see them. Try to keep your distance and they will be more inclined to slither away than to stay and fight.
For added safety on the trail, consider using hiking poles or walking sticks. You can use these sticks to scan the area in front of you, so they may help you discover snakes sooner or convince them to run away before you step on them.
Should You Be Afraid of Snakes While Hiking?
There is no need to be afraid as long as you’re aware.
Rattlesnakes don’t want to encounter you anymore than you want to encounter them. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep your distance if you see or hear a rattlesnake.
Make sure you’re well-protected with appropriate clothing, and always hike with someone else in case you are bit and need help getting to a hospital.
As long as you take the appropriate precautions as outlined in this article, you have nothing to fear from encountering rattlesnakes on the hiking trail.
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from rattlesnakes while you’re out hiking. Some of the best things to do are to wear protective clothing, stay alert, and attempt to maintain your distance anytime you see a rattler.