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Hiker's Safety Tips in Rattlesnake Territory

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Spring weather is here, flowers are in bloom, and the desert has come to life; time to hit the trails! We're not the only ones that are enjoying the sunshine. Rattlesnakes have left their winter hideaways and are heading out to take care of their Springtime business, which means they'll be seen by plenty of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Is anyone in danger?

No, well, at least not the hikers. The familiar scenario of a rattlesnake hiding in the bushes, waiting to sink its fangs into the meaty calf of an oblivious hiker are inaccurate at best.

In reality, snake encounters are almost always a rather uneventful sighting of a snake slithering across a trail, or out basking in the morning sun. What often follows is where people get in trouble. One halted hiker becomes a gawking gang, waiting for a hero to emerge to toss pebbles at the snake until it becomes aggitated, and then "ch ch shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"; the snake has had enough and the rattle goes off.

What can the hero do? There is no opportunity for a triumphant Facebook photo or gloating tweet in heeding the warning and continuing the hike. A stick is found, the snake is beaten to death, and the hero grabs his trophy by the tail. But the snake's nerves are not done, and the hero finds himself in the hospital with a black and blue arm, $100,000 in debt, and perceived justification of the fear that caused a peaceful sighting to change so drastically. The local newspaper reports a "rattlesnake attack", and at least one person that witnessed the snake tweets "I almost died today - rattlesnake on the trail."

This is a classic case of group mentality gone wrong. A dozen hikers passing by a coiled rattlesnake may take note and move on without issue. 12 in a group, however, seldom ends peacefully. It is our nature, and unlikely any amount of education will truly resolve it.

Regardless, there are many things that we, as individuals outdoor goers, can do to keep safe when rattlesnake activity is at its peak:

  1. Stay on the trails. Rattlesnakes are more likely to be found in places with better opportunity to hunt, hide, and stay out of trouble. A busy trail is no place for an ambush hunter to make a living.
  2. If you see a snake, leave it alone! A rattlesnake can't jump at a person, and won't chase them down. If you see a snake, it is nothing more than an interesting point of the hike.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings. Watch your step. Texting while walking has resulted in at least one bite that we know of, and head phones will keep the natural warning system from working.
  4. If you have a dog, keep it on a leash. Have the dog vaccinated for rattlesnake bites, and have it trained if it's available in your area.

If those seem to be obvious, it's because they absolutely are. Rattlesnakes are simply not a threat to those who don't go looking for it. Staying safe is just a matter of knowing better, and if you didn't before, now you do.

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