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Trail Sense


Snake on the trail

As a boy growing up in Georgia, I often visited my grandfather's farm. He had several ponds on the farm and there were many snakes that lived around the water. To my grandfather, every snake in the water was a moccasin and every snake on the land was a rattler. And, every snake that he saw, soon became a dead snake. Using a hoe, large rock, rifle, or his dog, he made sure the snake died.

My grandfather's dog was a mutt. The small dog took after my grandfather, though and he too, killed every snake he saw. He was pretty amazing to watch. Snakes are very fast and strike with lightning speed, but the small dog was faster. He demonstrated his quickness time and again as he would tease the snake, catch the striking snake behind it's head, and shake him unmercifully.

For me, I never developed a fear nor a love for snakes. They have always been just creatures that I tried not to disturb. I think one of my old dogs, Jake (yes, our old dog was also named Jake), had a great attitude toward snakes and many other animals. He was a very athletic dog and we often went on long trail runs together. If a snake was close to the trail, or even lying on the trail, Jake would simply step over or around the serpent and pretend it never existed. In his life, we passed probably close to a hundred snakes and he never bit at one or even acknowledged their existence. I theorized that he knew if he paid attention to the snake, he would have been obligated to chase it away or kill it. Well, Jake was a retriever. He did not kill things, he retrieved them. Walking around with a snake in his mouth all day, was not appealing to Jake - so he avoided them altogether.

Snakes are a part of the outdoors. If you hike, you will encounter snakes. I have seen snakes in City Parks, County Parks, State Parks, State Forests, National Forests, and in National Parks. Give a snake a bit of wilderness and they put up a mailbox and call it home.

Whether you love or hate snakes they are on the trails, so here are a few tips for snake encounters ...

Watch for snakes and try to avoid them.

Stay on the trail and out of the brush.

If the snake is on the trail, bypass it.

Look before you reach.

Look before you step.

Unless you harm the snake (as in stepping on it) it should take up a defensive position as you approach it. Understand that the snake is telling you to stay away. I would practice avoidance.

If you step on or startle a snake, it will react with a bite in the same way that humans swat at an insect that has bite them.

Don't be aggressive to the snake and the snake will probably leave you alone. Humans are too big for snake to think of as prey.

We are going to be in the desert for a few weeks this summer, we might carry a Sawyer Extraction Kit. It seems to help some if used in the first few minutes.

The medical advice for snake bites ...

Treat the bite as a puncture wound, clean and dress it.

If the snake just bit and did not inject venom, a tetanus shot might still be needed.

Stay calm.

Immobilize the limb that was bitten.

Keep the bite below the heart.

Get to the doctor/hospital.

Prepare to treat for shock.

Do not "cut and suck", apply a tourniquet, or try to freeze the area with ice.

The best medical advice is to avoid being bit!

Happy snaky trails


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