Friday, February 5, 2016

Last Call for Rattlesnakes 2015

An unusual sight in an unusually dry summer - six bucks drinking out of the house trough in the day time.
If you look closely at the antlers of the third buck from the left, you can see they are red-tinged from blood vessels under the velvet the buck had just rubbed off.
Finally on August 22, we had our last snake adventure of 2015. The menfolk were repairing a window on the house and I was tending to other chores in the yard. I turned a valve on to fill a water trough on the other side of the barbwire fence near the house. The cattle were gone for the season and the trough had a crack with a slow leak, so I filled it halfway every few weeks to provide water for wildlife in the very dry summer.

About a half hour later, Papa Bear asked if I wanted him to turn the water off.

"No," I replied, "the trough has a shut-off valve and will turn itself off."

"Are you sure?" he asked, "It's spilling over."

I walked over and realized the trough was unlevel and spilling water on its far side. Before squatting down, I checked to see the ground was clear and then reached to turn the valve off.

Papa Bear pointed out the small leak on the side of the trough and I explained that within a few hours, the narrow crack would get clogged with debris and stop dripping. I reached over to adjust the ceramic bowl under the crack which collected water for the small animals and noticed a bright blue line on the ground in the shade of the trough.

"What's that?" I thought, "a skink?"

The blue line was forked and when it flicked backwards, I realized it was the tongue of a rattlesnake whose head was sticking out from underneath the trough. I jerked my hands back and while still squatting, grabbed Papa Bear's pant legs and tugged him back too. We both gasped "Rattler!" which brought Curious Bear tearing around the corner of the house. The snake must have been tucked into a hollow under the empty plastic trough, but as the heavy water filled it up, the weighted bottom flexed downwards and nudged the snake out. Boys being boys, they wanted to get closer and I kept pushing them back.

A Northern Pacific rattlesnake warning me to stay back after I dumped it out of the snake bucket. Okay.   
"You really don't like rattlesnakes, do you?" said Papa Bear.

"If you stay back, you can help me catch it," I said. "Just don't scare it under the trough while I get my snake gear."

We split the snake chores into three. Papa Bear had the net, Curious Bear had the bucket lid, and I had the tongs. The snake's head was just a few inches out of the trough and was partially blocked by the barbwire fence. I would have to go in at a steep angle and and would have only one chance. I successfully aimed and quickly closed the tongs firmly behind the snake's head, but it didn't move when I jerked up. Slow and steady pressure I reminded myself and soon pulled the snake between the fence wires and dropped it in the bucket.

I was so hyped up at the time we were capturing this snake, I didn't realize how big it was. Eleven rattle segments and heavy.  The wound from pulling it out from under the water trough had not scabbed over several day later when I released it, but the snake calmy crawled off into the grass and hid under a log. It sure didn't look hungry so hopefully it holed up for awhile until the wound healed.   
Curious Bear watched the snake in the bucket though a viewing window on the lid. "It has a wound, " he said. We crowded around the bucket. The snake had pink flesh showing through an inch section of split skin behind its head. When I jerked the snake up, it must have gotten cut on a sharp edge beneath the trough. There was no blood and I told Papa Bear that I would put antibiotic ointment on it. Right. I left the snake in the clean bucket for several days to give the wound time to close up before I released it. It must be hard for a snake to keep a wound clean.

Next I will post photos of the snakes of 2015 and you will get to vote on which one should go on the Dipper Ranch walnut label for the year.


Northern Pacific RattlesnakeCrotalus oreganus oreganus


  1. Cindy, do you ever worry about getting bit? I know you are very careful, but...

    1. I do worry about getting bit. Actually that is why I move them away from the farmyard. Generally, our local rattlesnakes are not aggressive and if you stay back, they will eventually move on their way. But in the farmyard, if I don't move them, then people, pets or livestock are likely to run into them again and maybe without enough warning to safely respond. I have training, experience and good tools to do this. I do NOT recommend untrained people casually try to move a rattlesnake. I talk about this more at this post: The Rattlesnake Decision


  2. It's rare to see people not killing any venomous snake they encounter.


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