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by josh pi v en

If You Meet a Snake on the Trail

Quick tips for separating the myths from the facts—fast.


You’re hiking on remote national park land when you see a rattlesnake blocking the trail just ahead of you. What do you do?


You could try negotiation, but that probably won’t work. Truthfully, it’s best to give any

snake a wide berth. Rattlesnakes, of course, are venomous and gener- ally easy to identify (more on this below), but to be safe you should always assume a snake in the wild is venomous. And anyway, the bite of a nonvenomous snake can still be extremely painful and may cause infection.


posture. A coiled rattler that is audibly shaking its tail (rattle) is prob- ably preparing to strike. Or, at the very least, none too pleased. If this is the case, back away

quickly but carefully—you don’t want to trip and fall in your haste to get away. However, while a snake may strike

across a greater distance if coiled, snakes can attack from any posture. Further, don’t assume the lack of an audible rattle indicates the snake is sleeping, ignoring you, blind and deaf, or full. A rattlesnake may rattle only a bit—or not at all—before striking. Also, a young rattlesnake may have an undeveloped rattle. Do not attempt to poke or prod the snake with a stick or other object


S COUT ING ¿ MAY • JUNE 2 0 1 0

in an attempt to get it to move out of your way. This will only annoy the snake and make it more likely to strike. The best solution is to wait until it clears the trail. Once it starts to leave, visually

follow its progress to make sure it’s far from the trail before you continue on your way. Most snakes can strike a distance

of half their body length. This means if you encounter a six-foot snake, it can easily attack any object within a three-foot radius, with zero warning. For this reason, it’s best to wear thick hiking boots, which may prevent fangs from piercing your skin. Finally, if you are bitten, do not panic. While any snakebite should

be considered a medical emergency, you’re not likely to succumb to the snake’s venom unless you’re many hours (or days) from a hospital with antivenin—or unless you’re very young, very old, or have a compro- mised immune system. Still, try to keep the bitten area immobile and below the level of your heart as you seek help. Except in rare cases where help is

far away, a tourniquet is likely to do more harm than good, resulting in tissue damage. If you must use one, place it just above the bite area and make it loose enough to easily fit a finger under. And before you go buy a snake- bite kit, listen up. New medical

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