The prospect of snakebites in the wilderness is – and should be – a harrowing one.
While there are many species of snake that are relatively friendly and even make good pets, wild snakes are not a creature you want to mess with. Although none of the most venomous snakes in the world inhabit North America, there are some dangerous species across the continent to keep even the most experienced survivalist on their toes.
Fortunately, following a few simple principles will go a long way in keeping you safe from snakes.
1. Know what kind of snakes to look out for in your area.
Any prepper knows that the most important preparation is research, and the best defense against a threat is comprehensive knowledge of that threat. Knowing what kinds of snakes to be on the lookout for in a particular region or habitat – what they look like, where they like to hide, how venomous they are, and how likely to bite humans – is crucial to avoid a dangerous encounter.
Water moccasins occupy different habitats and exhibit different behaviors to western diamondback rattlesnakes, so knowing which one you are more likely to see will give you a firmer footing on how to avoid them and, if necessary, how to react to a bite if you do receive one.
2. Watch the ground.
Even when compared with the many expert hiders of the animal kingdom, snakes are masters of camouflage, and it can be incredibly easy to step or almost step on one with a single careless footfall. This will be startling for you, but the snake will interpret it as a genuine threat and is likely to react defensively, i.e., by biting.
Keeping a close eye on the ground, particularly in areas where snakes are likely to be hiding, will help avoid such an unwanted encounter.
(Snakebites are most certainly a disaster. Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide on the four levels of disaster to discover how disasters are tiered.)
3. Be especially cautious in tall grass and dense brush.
One of those areas where snakes are likely to be hiding is in tall grasses, dense brush, and any thick, ground-level vegetation that makes it easy for them to conceal themselves. Take extra precautions in these areas, including keeping your eyes trained on the ground as much as possible (while still looking where you are going, of course), trying to make your presence known with heavy footfalls and sticks, and sticking to the beaten path as much as possible, will all decrease your chance of ending up in an unpleasantly snake-y situation.
4. Keep an extra eye out around water.
One of the most dangerous of the venomous North American snakes, the cottonmouth or water moccasin, is, as the name suggests, semi-aquatic. Anybody hiking or camping in its natural range – much of the southeastern United States – should be extremely cautious around bodies of water that might be harboring this large viper.
Water moccasins are especially common in slow-moving, shallow bodies of water – exactly the sorts of lakes and streams that will seem safest and most tempting as a source of water. Anyone concerned about water moccasins should know that they also populate marshes and swamps and are strong swimmers who have been known to travel into larger bodies of water and even to swim to barrier islands from the mainland and back.
5. Make yourself known to any snakes that may be hiding nearby.
Despite their fearsome reputations, even venomous snakes are more scared of you than you might be of them. This means they are easy to scare off from a long way away. However, most snakes are much harder to get rid of if you encounter them at a close distance once they have already entered a defensive frame of mind.
Making them aware of your presence early, then, is crucial. Snakes “hear” largely through vibrations in the ground, so the best way to alert them to your presence is by maximizing the amount of those vibrations you are sending. Stomping your feet and beating the ground with a heavy stick as you walk are probably the simplest ways to accomplish this and will hopefully frighten off even the most dangerous snakes before they have a chance to inflict any damage on you and yours.
6. Keep your distance.
If you are unlucky enough to encounter a snake at a close range, the most important thing to do is to give it space. Venomous snakes can strike at up to half their body length, so it is very likely that you could be within striking distance without realizing it. Once you have spotted the snake, back away slowly and find another route, wait for it to leave, or skirt around it, always being sure to move slowly and give it as much space as you physically can. This will make sure the snake does not feel threatened, which could spur it to strike.
Even in North America, which is not known for its virulently venomous snakes, snakebites should be a concern for anyone who plans to spend a lot of time in the wilderness.
Avoiding snakebites can be fairly straightforward.
Luckily, however, they are relatively easy to avoid for anyone with the know-how and diligence to commit to being careful and cautious in snake country. As with so many things in life, the most important part of the process is good preparation.
After that, it is mostly common sense and a lack of complacency that will keep you safe from snakebites.
Do you have any tips to add? Have you had any close encounters with a venomous snake in your area? Let’s discuss it in the comments.
Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty. You can read more from Nigel at More Reptiles
I don’t like ANY snakes. Don’t tell me how useful some can be, if I see one and automatically jump before my brain works, I could fall off the bluff before I’m bitten.
I am blessed to live right on the bluff of a rural mountain in SE TN. I’ve spent 25 years clearing briars and weeds to “tame” a few acres I call my yard.
We have more copperheads in this area than rattlesnakes. The copperheads don’t usually get bigger than about 3 feet. However, they blend in with our soil so well, even if you know where they are you may not see them until they move.
Three years ago, I was weeding in a mulched area 10 feet from my back deck, a pretty much bare spot. I was on my knees working and leaned back onto my foot, when I saw there was a nest of 5 or 6 baby snakes under where my knee had just been resting. Ugh!
I’ve learned to adapt, not the critters. It’s beautiful here and worth the risk to me. My trust is in the Lord, He numbers my days, and everything happens in His timing.
I did something similar but it was a scorpion that was about 5.5″ long.
Scorpions Are also quite dangerous if one is allergic to their poison/venom. Having been stung when I was MUCH younger, I’m very wary of their presence because I Am Allergic.
I also live in SE TN next to the Cherokee National forest. I worry about Copperheads every year. Like you stated, you cannot really see them til they move. At least with the bears in my yard I can actually see them. It really is beautiful here. Be safe neighbor.
Water moccasins also hang out in trees over waterways. They are aggressive too so always give them lots of room.
Indeed They Do, Steve. An old friend sent me a personal photo of a Large Timber Rattler Hiding in a Magnolia Tree. To This Day, I Always Keep my head on a swivel when “out in the woods”!
No step on snek.
Always have a flashlight with you when you are outside at night.I saw a copperhead resting on my asphalt driveway at night-staying warm-I went around him to check my mailbox.
Have a stick or a broom to push aside any vines,monkey grass,etc to see if there are any snakes in there.
For me, I’m not really scared of snakes, I know they are out there and am careful when I’m outdoors.
During the summer, I often look for snakes in the nearby foothills. I know that they are there but I’ve never found one. When walking through the brush, I probe in front of my feet with a long walking stick.
During our drought, rattlesnakes migrate into our neighborhood. I found one on the steps of a house closest to the US Forest Service land. I alerted the neighbor by telephone. I never received a reply.
We have prairie rattlesnakes where I live in WY. I’ve found them in my chicken coop and horse barn, near the house, etc…they get dispatched immediately.
They come out of their dens in June, so each year I call the “local” (60 + miles away) hospitals to find out if they have anti-venom meds to know where to go if need be. My dogs get yearly rattlesnake vaccines too. Out here you shouldn’t be afraid of snakes (or big cats, grizz or wolves), you need to be wary, respectful of nature and trust in the Lord :).
I’ve seen mostly prairie rattlesnakes, diamondback, sidewinders, and San Juaquine type rattlesnakes. All blend in quite well. Some are more agressive than others.
As a 12 year old climbing a rockface reaching up high for a handhold I was bitten on my wrist. Either it didn’t inject poison or I don’t react. But I don’t aim to tempt fate to see which it may have been.
Daisy, Here in Texas, Most of Us Know that Snakes can climb trees. I’ve personally experienced a Cotton Mouth Drop Into my bass boat when I was directly under the tree he was hiding in! When that happens, there’s NO Gunfire Possible to Remove The Threat. And jumping out of the boat to escape is also NOT WISE: Where There’s One Cotton Mouth, Odds Are There Are More, in the immediate vicinity.
Appreciate your Newsletter, A LOT!
I’m A Survivor of Copperhead Snake Bite. I NOW wear Snake-Proof Chaps EVERYWHERE On My Heavily Wooded Property Here in Far Northeastern Texas, “somewhere behind the Pineywoods Curtain”!
James, I remember when I was a kid, one of our farmer friends used to carry a .22 semiauto loaded with shells that were a blue capsule, filled up with little stainless steel pellets. These should work like a little shotgun to kill snakes from a few meters away. It would be great if someone could provide more information.
Snakes are far more rare than you might expect. The last time I saw a rattler (western diamondback) was years ago, in a nature park. There was a group of people around it, excited to see one: they so scared the poor rattler that it slithered off and hid.
Around the house we’ve seen only a few snakes—four gopher snakes and a king snake (we caught and measured that one, it was 4’11” long). That’s in 15 years of living here. This is in a suburb in a western state.
I lived in the country in the desert many years ago, and saw only three snakes in four years, all western diamondbacks, one of which was a baby, didn’t have a rattle yet, which I caught. Donated it to a local high school for their terrarium.
My basic message is: yes, there are snakes around and some of them can be dangerous, but don’t get paranoid about them because you most likely won’t see any. On the beaten trails they can be seen at a distance, on and off the beaten trail the ground is so rough that you watch every step anyway.
Dear fellow readers,
This is a common hazard down here in Venezuela. Our main prevention method against them is wearing thick, heavy boots, altogether with Nigel recommendations and some common sense. However, as they can sometimes fall from a tree, well, we are used to be with our eyes wide open at all times.
We live in the Antelope Valley ,Ca and they have a snake here called a Mohave Green rattlesnake that has the regular venom, plus a neurotoxin! And that they can be very aggressive, so far I have not encountered any of them, but I very cautious when near any wild snake. As I don’t really like snakes. I don’t fear them, but I try to stay away from them! I’m am the President of the AVTHS ( Antelope Valley Treasure Hunters Society-currently in office for 2022!)
Snakes are like demoncrats, NOT to be trusted!!! SORRY SNAKE PEOPLE.