It’s that time of the year when we want to be out exploring the backwoods now that the temperature has finally warmed up.
Yes, spring was slow to arrive with the cold weather dragging its feet, but the forests around us are finally coming to life. Be warned that rattlesnakes are out and about soaking up the rays of the midday sun also.
Sooner or later, if you’re an avid hiker or outdoors person in the area north of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, you’re bound to come across a rattlesnake. It might be after a year or two or even the first time out. I’ve known outdoorsmen and avid hikers who grew up in our area, yet didn’t see their first rattlesnakes until they ventured about for several years.
But who knows? It’s possible to come across one or several after just entering the forest. It usually depends on the weather, the time of year and what terrain you are in.
Once the temperature creeps into the 60 degree range, expect to see the snakes sunning on rocks and logs. As the heat of summer kicks in, they become even more active and hunt at night; as they are pit vipers, they can detect prey by its body heat.
If you’re out and about, it’s extremely important that you always look before you put any part of your body anywhere. Most snakes will flee if they hear or see you approaching, but every now and then there may be an aggressive one in the bunch.
Generally, you can walk through the woods and not worry one bit about rattlesnakes 99% of the time. You leave them alone and they leave you alone. That’s how it works.
But then there are those of us who enjoy hunting for rattlesnakes. Yes, you heard that right. We go into their terrain seeking them out, catching them, photographing and then releasing them. We do it in a responsible, careful and professional manner that keeps us on top of the situation so that neither snakes nor handlers are harmed.
Why, you ask? I guess we as hunters would say it has similarities to turkey hunting. It’s sort of like when you’re sitting in the woods and a gobbler answers your call and causes your heart to beat faster. I guess you could say the buzz of a snakes rattles gives us somewhat of an adrenaline rush.
As well, it’s an activity where your senses are at their highest level as you capture the intended prey, especially if you find that one snake among many that decides he’d rather strike your snake grabbing tongs than have it gripped around his body. It’s just to let you know he’s a bit angry today and isn’t interested in being handled.
Yep, he’s that one out of a hundred snakes that keeps things exciting. Most snakes are fairly cooperative: no quick escapes under rocks, no real surprises, just the normal snake catching stuff of early season rattlesnake season.
They just sit there if you approach silently and they let you slip the tongs around them. Then, they only rattle once the plastic tube is slipped over their head and part of the body. That tube allows one to handle the snake safely while it’s measured and the sex determined by counting the subcaudel scales next to the rattle.
If you’re going to be trekking about the big woods of Pennsylvania, be aware that you are in the snake’s environment and give it a wide berth if you come upon one. If snake wrangling interests you, maybe you can find someone who does it and tag along to get a better understanding of rattlesnakes.