How to Avoid Snakes and Prevent Snakebites

The best way to avoid a nasty bite from a venomous snake is to keep your distance, but this doesn’t prevent all possible encounters; educate yourself with these six best practices to keep the probability of getting impaled with fangs on the low side

By: Ed Head


Having the ability to correctly identify venomous and nonvenomous snakes is a good skill to learn. Seeing this brown-colored snake in the water would make some people think it’s a harmless water snake. Its true identity is a venomous copperhead. (Jeff Phillips photo)


1. Not all snakes are bad. When you encounter a snake in your yard or when wandering about, it’s important to identify the snake. Most are harmless but a few can be deadly. For example, the common bull snake or gopher snake may appear to be a rattlesnake at first glance but a careful look will reveal the lack of rattles on the tail and the obvious triangular shape of the head common to vipers. These snakes are friendlies and shouldn’t be harmed; they will attack and eat rattlesnakes. Having them around is a good thing. Some folks sometimes capture gopher snakes to take home and turn loose on their property as a defense against rattlesnakes.

2. About 80 percent of the people hit by venomous snakes were handling the snake when they were bitten. Playing with dangerous snakes or handling them to relocate is a really good way to get tagged. Even dead snakes can hurt you, as a friend of mine discovered when the head of a rattlesnake he had chopped off an hour earlier bit him. Another friend died after a rattlesnake he attempted to pick up bit him twice. Don’t handle dangerous snakes.

3. How do you deal with a dead venomous snake? The usual prescription is to cut off and bury the head, but let me add a little wisdom. Don’t step on the snake and reach down with a pocketknife to cut off the head. That’s a good way to get bitten on the hand or the foot. I prefer to use a long blade, such as a machete, because it gives me some reach. Don’t chop; the head may fly through the air, in some cases narrowly missing your face (ask me how, I know). Slice the head off, scoop it up with the blade, dig a hole with the blade and bury the head. If you have one handy, a shovel works very well.


The best practice to avoid snakebites is to just avoid getting close to snakes. If you encounter a venomous snake in an area away from most human traffic, just keep your distance and move on about your business. If you find one around your house where your kids and family dog might play, different story; it’s time to take action. (Jeff Phillips photo)


4. Venomous snakes are poor roommates. When I’m out in the boonies, I leave snakes alone. I’ve ridden my horse around snakes in the trail many times, for example. That being said, I will not tolerate them around where I live or work as they pose too much of a threat to me, my family, my animals, my friends and my associates. One spring in San Diego, I killed a dozen rattlesnakes in two weeks at our Border Patrol firing range because it would have been irresponsible to conduct training in a place knowingly infested with dangerous snakes.

5. If you’re in snake country and have a dog, it’s a good idea to have your pet vaccinated against snakebite. Even better, take Rover to snake-avoidance training. This training involves a live, defanged, milked rattlesnake and a shock collar. Yes, it’s unpleasant to see your pet shocked if it gets too close to the snake, but it beats the vet bills or the loss of your companion.


When going off trail, scouting for wildlife or hunting for mushrooms for example, pay close attention where you step and where you put your hands. (Jeff Phillips photo)


6. Not all rattlesnakes rattle and they don’t need to coil before they strike. If you’re in snake country, your best defense is alertness. Keep your eyes moving, look where you step and never pick something up off the ground before assuring yourself there isn’t a snake under it or in the nearby brush. Use a stick to poke around, don’t step blindly over logs or boulders and take a good look around before you sit down. In the warm months of the year, I make it a habit to stop, pause and look after opening a door and before stepping outside. I also use a flashlight when walking around at night, the time when snakes can be most active.

What to do if you suffer a bite

If a venomous snake bites you, stay calm and get to a hospital as quickly as you can. Keep the bite below your heart and don’t drive unless you have no other choice. Don’t waste time trying to kill or capture the snake so you can show the doctor what kind of snake you were bitten by, get to help quickly. Forget about cutting the bite, sucking out the poison or applying a tourniquet; none of these treatments are recommended anymore.

Editor’s Note: Try to remember the snake species. If not known, anything about the snake – colors, body type, length – could help health care professionals give better treatment.

With a good measure of alertness and common sense, you can stay safe in snake country. I hope my suggestions add to your peace of mind.