How to Hunt and Identify Reptiles That Are Safe to Eat

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by Johnathan David

Most people who participate in hunting seek out various mammals, birds, and fish. However, there’s no reason why you can’t add reptiles to this list. With so many reports out there about food shortages, hunting can be an excellent way to make sure you and your family stay fed. 

Abundant in most areas of the United States and an excellent protein source, most people who have tried reptile meat report that it tastes just like chicken. Plus, you’ll get the added satisfaction of having obtained your dinner for yourself. Why not give it a try and see for yourself?

What kind of gear and equipment will I need to hunt for reptiles?

Generally, you’ll want to save your guns and rifles for hunting larger mammalian and avian prey. Most reptiles are too small for this to be an effective method. Even if you are a great shot, some lizards are so small you’ll completely destroy the body with a bullet and have nothing to eat.

Instead, tried and true weapons include spears and traps. You can MacGyver a spear by attaching a knife to the end of a long pole or sturdy branch and use it to stab your prey (this isn’t the kind of spear that you will throw).

Trapping reptiles works best when you are hunting snakes and turtles (most lizards will be able to climb out of the trap). You won’t need any fancy equipment for this method—just a tool for digging (your hands will work in a pinch) and bait, which should be readily available in your environment.

You’ll need a knife to clean the animal’s body, and your cooking equipment must include at least a fire starter and a pot. (Hot sauce optional.)

How do I safely and correctly identify snakes?

We strongly advise you not to attempt to hunt dangerous reptiles, including alligators, crocodiles, and venomous snakes. While these animals are edible and even considered delicacies in places, the risks of hunting and killing them are too great to be worth it.

This section will teach you how to identify which kinds of snakes are safe to hunt.

In the United States, there are four kinds of venomous snakes: copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes. These are the snakes you do NOT want to hunt.

  • Copperheads (as you may be able to guess from their name) have reddish-brown, copper-colored heads. Their bodies are relatively thick, with hourglass-shaped markings that range from light brown to almost black. Copperheads can be found almost anywhere across the East Coast and the Midwest United States.
  • Cottonmouths are also called water moccasins because they are semi-aquatic and usually found in or near a water body. They are often misidentified, being confused with harmless water snakes. The biggest tell is in the heads: cottonmouths have triangular, blocky heads with slender necks and thick bodies; water snakes’ heads blend into their bodies.
  • Rattlesnakes come in a large number of subspecies that differ in general appearance, habitat, and toxicity, but their distinctive rattles can identify all on the ends of their tails. You might hear a rattler before you see it—they shake their tails as a warning and when they feel threatened. Rattlesnakes are most often found in the South, Southwest, and Midwest.
  • Coral snakes are the only non-pit viper on this list. They are slender, with bright yellow, red, and black horizontal stripes. Often confused with the non-venomous scarlet snake, the two can be distinguished by the advice of a memorable rhyme: “red touching yellow kills a fellow; red touching black, safe for Jack.” They are mostly found in the Southeast and along the Gulf of Mexico.

You should focus on non-venomous snakes for safety purposes although you can eat venomous snakes.

How do I find and hunt reptiles?

One of the most reliable ways to find reptiles is by road cruising at dusk if you are near paved roads. Because reptiles are cold-blooded (meaning they can’t generate their own body heat and must moderate their temperature using outside sources), they can often be found lying on asphalt once the sun has gone down. These surfaces retain heat from the day.

If there is no asphalt near you or you are hunting during the day, you will likely find snakes slithering through tall grass, hiding under a rock or log, or basking on a rock. The same goes for lizards and turtles.

When hunting, whether you’re using a spear or a trap, the most important thing to remember is to stay aware of your surroundings. You don’t want to be so focused on pursuing the animal that you find yourself unexpectedly in an unsafe situation. If you’re trying to spear the animal, make sure your reflexes are lightening-fast, so you strike accurately. If it does not die immediately, quickly cut off the head, so it does not suffer unnecessarily.

How do I cook reptile meat?

One of the most critical takeaways from this article should be that you must never eat raw reptile meat. 

Wild animals are breeding grounds for bacteria and parasites, which can make you seriously sick if ingested. Especially with reptiles, there is a risk of salmonella poisoningthis bacteria thrives in their digestive tracts. 

After cleaning the animals, boil it in a pot of water to sanitize it and kill any bacteria that may be present. Then it is safe to eat, or you can continue to cook it over a fire to get a nice sear.

After your meal, be sure to thoroughly clean your cooking equipment and dispose of any animal remains (bones, skin, etc.) as far away as possible. Doing so will discourage scavengers like bears, raccoons, and foxes from coming near to enjoy your scraps.


You don’t need fancy gear or knowledge to hunt and eat reptiles. Just the basics: a knife or spear and some basic info on identifying dangerous reptiles are enough to get started.

Hunt safely and humanely, remember to cook your meal, and enjoy it!

Have you hunted reptiles before? What kinds have you eaten? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Johnathan David leads the editorial team at Everything Reptiles as Editor in Chief. He brings decades worth of publishing experience. Johnathan David is a fourth generation reptile keeper and wildlife biologist. He has twenty years of experience as a reptile hobbyist from childhood. He has kept Geckos, Skinks and a Poison Dart Frog.

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  • I’ve killed and eaten bout every kind of snake in America. They all taste pretty much the same. Not completely like chicken but texture is close.
    In the desert like White Sands when you do see a lot of snakes out suddenly it’s fixing to rain.
    If you do have to kill a poison snake then lop it’s head off and bury it. It can still bite for a while after death and you dint wanna accidentally step on it or have the dog mess with it.
    Cant cook them too long cause they get real tough.

    Ain’t much uglier than a naked turtle lol.

    Dunno much on lizards. They are quick, small round here and a pain in the behind to kill for the amount of meat ya get and I’d have no idea on a gila monster.

  • most prey populations cannot support large numbers of successful predators. in most primitive societies armed with nothing but spears and arrows hunting rights are a big issue, one they are willing to go to war and commit genocide over, because most limited game populations simply cannot support two predatory tribes.

    if 200 million americans go hungry and restort to hunting, in a few weeks there won’t be so much as a grasshopper or chipmunk or rat or lizard left anywhere humans can reach.

    I would suggest that surviving prepper communities ban all hunting for a few years to allow the remaining game populations to rise to their natural levels, then evaluate how much hunting can be sustained.

    • Yeah the 30s showed how quickly it gets wiped out. Oklahoma lost all elk and most everything else. It took 30+yrs of conservation efforts to see the first deer back in western Oklahoma.
      Cattle will be short lived. Most won’t be able to secure them. Sheppards could become a thing again. Ridin herd for the first time since the 1800s in a real way.

      You got more faith in humanity than I do on getting them to agreements.

      • @Matt in OK,
        Ya really think the [I]average[/I] American can shoot, dress out, butcher a cow into usable end products? Let alone know how to properly process for long term storage?
        If it doesnt come in plastic wrap from the grocery store, most would starve to death.

        • “Ya really think the [I]average[/I] American can shoot, dress out, butcher a cow into usable end products?”

          doesn’t matter if they can or can’t, they’ll try, and the effects on the prey populations will be the same.

        • @ 1stMarineJarHead
          No I really don’t. I know way to many “hunters” who can’t even process their own game.
          Im glad I taught mine meat don’t grow from styrofoam. Can’t wait to teach the grandkids.

          Shouldn’t be a lot of game left with Arizona’s laser beamed flying night visioned government mind controlled raptors running amok anyway

          • “Shouldn’t be a lot of game left with Arizona’s laser beamed flying night visioned government mind controlled raptors running amok anyway”

            but what if YOU are the game?

        • They don’t need any of these skills to kill a cow. A wasted dead cow is as dead as a fully-used dead cow.

      • “Cattle will be short lived”

        horses may not survive either. may have to aggressively protect them against all efforts to eat them. (north america originally had horses. the first indians to arrive killed and ate them all.)

        “You got more faith in humanity than I do on getting them to agreements.”

        well a ban doesn’t necessarily have to be agreed upon, just enforced.

    • Agree 100%. Until reptile populations reach those of humans, they should be regarded as Essential and Endangered. If humans are to survive, we need to stop destroying the web of life.

  • Killed two Coral Snakes in my yard this summer, didn’t eat’m. I prefer ribs, steak, or chicken on the grill to varmints.

  • I’ve never hunted for reptile myself, but I’ve tried reptile from family members who’ve “hunted” by car, by accident. My stepfather run over a huge water moccasin and brought it home. He fried it in a cornmeal batter, and it tasted across from chicken and catfish. My mom accidently hit and injured a gator with her car, so she backed up and ran over it and brought it home. There was quite a bit of gator meat. She fried some of it. Some of it got marinated in teriyaki and got grilled on skewers (that was tasty), and the rest got put into a lovely cheese, broccoli, and rice casserole.

  • For hunting rattlers (my only experience w/ snakes) I recommend a forked stick to pin the head and a good knife to decapitate it. As already mentioned, be careful with the severed head.

    • Yes, when “on the hunt” for venomous snakes, or even just for protection if you come across one with a not so nice attitude, especially if you have your dog with you, the best way to securely kill it is by using a long sturdy “walking stick” that has on the top side at least a three pronged “fork”. Kind of like a U shaped metal horseshoe (think Poseidon’s spear) but, not to wide, with a sharp spike/long nail in the middle, preferably a quarter inch longer than the two sides of the U shaped metal prongs. That will give you the advantage of not only pinning the snake down but also driving the spike through it’s head or wherever you manage to pin it down to the ground. If you are to far away from the head, yank it out and go for it again before it manages to try to strike at you or slither away. Before you remove your “spear”, take a BIG/long knife and chop it’s head off behind the spear/spike/whatever.

      NEVER forget, that head, can still bite you even if it’s been chopped off and the snake has been dead for quite some time. Bury the head somewhere you don’t intend to be and leave the area. (Do NOT pick the head up with your bare hands, use your spike/spear, spike it again and bring it to where you intend to bury it…) Also, remember that your dog will most likely want to dig it up… and you also don’t want to attract other critters that are also hungry and on the hunt so, gut the snake and bury the intestines along with the head. Save the skin, which you can remove when you get back to your camp. Spread it out on something flat/board, place it where no critters can get to it and you can use that skin for various projects or barter… I don’t care so much about the “rattle” since that is more a “tourist” souvenir… Unless you barter it to someone that has “some sort” of use for it…

      Remember to honor whatever you kill/harvest for your sustenance, by thanking it for “giving” it’s life, so that you can survive. ALL life is sacred… (even a reptile)

      I’ve “speared” and eaten rattlesnakes, fried and/or roasted over open fire/coals. When speared, I cut their heads off a bit further down from their “neck area” since I’m not sure when it comes to the larger rattlesnakes, how far down their venom sacks go. I know people that will de-venom them before actually killing them and selling the venom. But, I’m guessing that when SHTF, there most likely won’t be that much of a market for selling the venom, unless you use it yourself in poisoning your sharp weapons. Just be careful and remember that those tools are poisonous…

      A tip… My strong advise is that a head of time/NOW is to get your self a couple of good anti venom kits, bring your dog to the vet and have the vet administer a shot to provide your dog some protection against the venom of rattlesnakes. (same with current rabies vaccines) It won’t completely and magically save your dog but, it will give you the much needed time to get him/her to the vet, or, treat it with an antivenom kit.

      Buy snake gators/leg protectors that the snakes can’t bite through. You can find them cheap on both Amazon, eBay and most likely sporting goods stores. They are not expensive but, will keep your ankles/lower legs more protected from the snake you didn’t see…

      Bring a sack with you to put your catch in when you’ve removed the head. Don’t wait to long to gut it, especially if you’re in a hot climate. Any and all bacteria will grow in heat. Also, don’t get freaked out when you’re gutting and skinning the snake, that it will still be moving. It IS dead but snakes especially, tend to keep moving and “twitch”, until the sun goes down… You don’t have to kill it again… ????

      Me personally, I have a problem when it comes to killing the Boa type snakes, as well as the black water moccasins. Growing up as a young child, left to my own in the swamps of Florida, (mid 60ies) My only 2 “friends” were a Boa Constrictor and a big black snake. Most likely one of the non poisonous ones, since I don’t recall ever getting bitten by any of them but, I was only a toddler and up to 5 yrs. old before I was taken out of the swamp so, I guess I’ll never find out. I still have a very deep love for those 2 snakes and have them forever tattooed, one life size on each arm. But yes, if push comes to shove, I will hunt and eat those too, knowing that those 2 that were my friends, are long gone by now…

      Stay safe and YES, wear heavy leather gloves when dealing with any type of reptile, especially if you don’t know if it’s poisonous or not. One of the few (harmless) snakes out there that DON’T have fangs that they’ll gladly sink into your skin, is the common Garter Snake. It just has little “spikes” inside it’s mouth to help pull it’s food into it’s mouth and down into it’s stomach…

  • Yea, my uncle always heard that rattlesnake tasted like chicken and always wanted to try it, so one summer he goes down to Bronte, TX to the annual rattlesnake round up. Had himself a big platter of deep fried and breaded rattle snake, yum! Delicious! Loved it. But when he comes home he could never eat “fried chicken” again! (It tasted to much like that dammed old filthy rattlesnake!) LOL!

  • I have tried alligator. I wouldn’t say it tastes like chicken. It has a mild flavor but is tougher than chicken. I thought I recognized those snakes in the pictures. I saw them on C-span when congress was in session. They are poisonous and I wouldn’t eat them.

  • 52 years ago I lived off the land for 10 months. I killed and ate one rattler. Cooked it in my fire. Didn’t have utensils. Dud b t gac we seasonings. It wasn’t my favorite but wasng bad either. I’ve killed a few since then but didn’t eat them. Just don’t want rattlers in my yard. Don’t know about hunting them but will kill if in my way. If hungry I’d eat it.

  • First, I’ve eaten rattlesnake, but not hunted them. Opp, AL, used to have an annual rattlesnake roundup and cleaned, cooked and sold them for all of us non-snake-hunters. Not bad, but you’d have to catch a big pile of them to make a meal.

    My opinion is that most reptiles are too small to hunt specifically for unless you are just a day or two from starvation where anything is better than nothing. Better to put effort into larger reptiles like snapping turtles or small gators where there is more meat per kill.

    That said, I’d put my effort into possum and raccoons if I was hunting small animals for food, along with rabbit and squirrel. I know folks who eat raccoon, but haven’t tried it myself. Possum tastes like chicken, but is a bit greasy.

  • I personally haven’t eaten any snakes, but my grandmother did, when she was living in India as a young adult. She thought it was delicious … Until she found out it was Rattlesnake Steaks!!!

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