Avoiding Snake Bites On the Trail

I have an unhealthy “concern” of snakes while out on the trail – especially this time of year. I thank my mom for this and the image of several dead rattlers on our front porch when I was a child not to mention two occasions when kings snakes got into my childhood home via the fire place. Statistically the odds of being snake bitten are pretty slim while on the trail and if you are like me the greater danger is cardiac arrest or bumping my head on rocks or trees while jumping around shrieking like a mad man at the sight of one. However, in the event of a snake sighting on the trail (and you will see them this time of year) there are steps that can be taken to prevent biting that every hiker should be aware of and incorporate into their hiking.

First, simply be aware of what is out there. You won’t be seeing a cobra on the mid south trails but there are breeds that are abundant in this area. Knowing what they are and where they are generally found (under logs, rocks, near water etc…) can help save you from unnecessary panic when they are found. Second, dress appropriately. It’s getting hot and humid and you can be sure most people on the trail are in shorts nowadays. You won’t catch me on the trail without some sturdy jeans and shoes (preferably above the ankle). Just because a snake strikes at you does not mean it will necessarily be able to connect and smaller snakes especially have smaller bites where these simple gear decisions can make the difference. Yeah, it’s a bit warmer on the hike in jeans but the peace of mind makes a difference for me. Also, carry a good hiking stick. You can buy these of course but I prefer to find a good one on the trail and carve it up to my liking with my hiking knife. A hiking stick is usually a step in front of you but can also be used to remove any aggressive snakes you might encounter on the trail without putting you in more immediate danger.

If you can, avoid tall grass and brushy areas this time of year. Sometimes that is not possible depending on the level of upkeep on your trail or your personal desire for more primitive routes. So if you are going to be walking in these areas be aware. You won’t see the snake but the hiking stick can help and you can also know what to look for.

Last, don’t walk over logs in your path but step on them and then over. Snakes like to get up underneath these. I was recently watching a National Geographic documentary on the Appalachian Trail and it showed a lot of rattlesnakes hidden up underneath some logs and rocks. They were practically invisible until the narrator pointed them out with more patience than I will typically use in a hike. By hopping on the log and then hopping off you avoid the underside completely and a step that could put you close to a reptile caught surprised by your foot.

And simply for the sake of stating the obvious, use common sense. If you see a snake, don’t terrorize it. Go around it. Most of the snake bites that occur every year (not all) are a result of people competing for a Darwin Award and could easily have been avoided.

Check this out for an example of what not to do on the trail when encountering a snake, especially a poisonous one.


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