Rattler in my yard=dead snake, if I can help it

Two or three weeks ago, my wife saw, from our deck, a fat snake with a triangular head gliding over a pile of brush in our backyard. I resolved, with a shudder, to do something about the pile of brush — which would require actually working in the yard, which for me is a big price to pay, but some things ya gotta do. (Where’s George W. Bush when you need him? He loves to clear brush.)

Based on her description, I Googled “copperhead” and showed her the picture. Yep, that was it, she said.

So last weekend, after she mentioned her intention of letting the grandchildren play behind our house at some point in the near future, I backed up my truck to the pile, and attacked it with a pitchfork. Yeah, it’s easier to pick up with your hands, but I’m not crazy. No snakes were encountered, which will explain why I got through the weekend without experiencing myocardial infarction. The brush is gone. Which, I remind myself, means the snake is likely somewhere in the vast, poison ivy-choked, “natural” parts of my yard (where we won’t let children go), which is located one block from the Saluda River.

(Dang. I just remembered I forgot to get any pictures of me manfully wrestling that potentially snake-infested debris into my pickup. I could have used that in future political campaigns. Oh, well…)

Anyway, with that memory fresh, I was less than thrilled to read this news today:

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a venomous reptile with a nasty bite, is under consideration to become a federally protected endangered species in South Carolina and neighboring states.

Look, I love the bald eagle. I’m for protecting the snail darter. I can even see some value in protecting wolves, sort of. And seeing as how I live nowhere near the Arctic, I’m for sticking up for the polar bear, even though it’s the only kind of bear that hunts people for food.

But a rattlesnake? Sorry, but the usual catchall of “biological diversity,” great as it is, isn’t quite enough to override the negatives in this instance.

The obligatory explanation is to be found in this story:

Eastern diamondbacks are important because they kill rodents and small mammals that could otherwise overpopulate the countryside.

“If this goes missing, it could have effects we’re not even thinking about today,” Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Harold Mitchell said. “It has a role to play. The less pieces there are in the ecosystem, the less functional that ecosystem becomes until it breaks.”

Sorry, but that’s not enough. It’s too vague and general. I could have given that justification without your help. You’re going to have to go farther than that. The idea that diversity in the ecosystem is in and of itself a justification doesn’t go far enough here. I need to know which rodents are controlled by this species and this species only. Are you saying rat snakes and king snakes and the like are picky, and won’t kill the ones that this kind of rattler goes after? If so, say so. Make the case.

(If your faith in biodiversity is of the religious sort, then it’s all about faith that why you may not know exactly why this species is essential to the balance of life, it is in some way you can’t know, and therefor you must preserve it. In other words, it’s a mystery; have faith. Sorry. Most of the time, I’m from South Carolina. But when it comes to rattlers, I’m from Missouri.)

I’m listening. But in the meantime, if I see one of these monsters in my yard, I’m going to do what I can to hasten its extinction.

36 thoughts on “Rattler in my yard=dead snake, if I can help it

  1. Silence

    A guy I worked with caught a copperhead and kept it. As our boss said: “It’s not if you get bitten, it’s when.” Words to live by.
    I wouldn’t kill a corn snake or rat snake or any other snake I knew to be non-venomous, but I’m with you: I’d kill a copperhead or rattler in or around my yard in a skinny minute.

    One week at Boy Scout camp – back home in TN – my friends and I killed 4 copperheads in a week in and around our campsite. Actually the scoutmaster killed one of them, and we killed the rest. The neck of a snake is no match for the steel blade of a shovel. The skins were stretched and mounted on a board to dry, then my friend Jeremy made them into a headband which he wore the rest of the week.

    Be careful if you are killing snakes. Even after the head is severed from the body it is still able to bite, for a while.

  2. Tim

    first thing I found googling this

    “Rattlesnakes carry venom that kill 5.5 people per year. Rattlesnake attacks are always defensive. Most rattlesnake related deaths are males between 17 and 27. Alcohol is usually involved which facilitates the venom. I picture a drunk kid on a camping trip trying to mess with the snake, then not seeking medical attention immediately.”

    So, unless you are yelling out “Hey Cooter Bob! Lookee! A cotton headed water rattler! Watch this…” followed by an “Ouch” then expletive, well the snake is just minding it’s own eating things you want eaten anyway.

  3. Brad

    Got it. That was in the story I read, too (except for the alcohol part).

    But in a court of law, this peaceful, law-abiding snake might also claim self-defense if I accidentally step on it — or infinitely worse, if an unsuspecting child thinks it is as harmless to play with as our dog.

    I don’t care about the snake’s intent. Far as I’m concerned, they are like a guy walking through a crowd holding a grenade with the cotter pin pulled out. He may be as innocent as the day is long — maybe someone handed him the grenade and pulled the pin without his willing participation, and he’s just looking for a place to dispose of it safely (like the corporal in that scene in “Stripes”). But accidentally jostle his arm, and he’s a threat to all.

  4. susanincola

    I both believe in biodiversity as a value (yes, because this system is way complicated and I don’t like to mess with stuff I don’t fully understand) AND kill copperheads in my yard (four last year). Why would these by mutually exclusive? (I think we should protect the polar bears, too, but I wouldn’t put up with one moving into my back yard).

    (Though did you read that article in the paper a few weeks ago about the people with the vultures nesting near their swimming pool? Authorities wouldn’t let them even shoo them away or have them moved, as they are protected).

  5. bud

    Fear of snakes is completely unjustified. More people die of insect bites than snakes. I say let’s save the rattlers. They’re actually very gorgeous creatures. Just give them a little respect and they’re generally harmless.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Brad: Hmmm, I’m thinking that maybe the “stand your ground” law may not apply to a snake…because he’s got no legs.

    All kidding aside, if you see a poisonous snake in your yard; kill it with a shovel. You didn’t get all the way to the top of the food chain by accident.

  7. Brad

    Bud, now come on… “completely unjustified”?

    How about guns? Is fear of them completely unjustified?

    Speaking of which… that’s about the one thing that makes me think I’d like to have a shotgun. I don’t think they make shovels long enough for me to feel entirely safe. Of course, that crocodile hunter guy used to grab venomous snakes by the tail. But look what happened to him.

    Actually, an ICBM would be preferable, although perhaps excessive…

  8. Brad

    Or cars?

    There’s almost nothing in the universe that fear of which is “completely unjustified.”

    I’m not talking about being scared of one’s shadow; I’m talking about healthy respect for danger.

  9. Silence

    Brad – if you are interested in shooting snakes, you have a few decent options:
    1) A good ol’ single shot .410 shotgun will run you around $200 and up, new. Loaded up with birdshot it would do the job and be minimally dangerous (as guns go.)

    2) A pistol chambered for .410 shotgun shells. Either a revolver or a single shot pistol. Not quite as good as the shotgun, but most of these pistols are also capable of firing .45 Long Colt ammunition, so more versatile. More expensive though, probably around $600+ for the revolver, again starting around $200 for the single shot.

    3) Your third option is a .22 rifle or pistol (also .38 pistol) loaded with what is referred to as “rat-shot.” You should be able to pick up rat-shot at any sporting goods store. You’d probably need to get a bit closer with a .22 pistol loaded with rat-shot than you’d like.

    I’m a gun guy, but personally for snakes I’d stick with the shovel. If I was gonnna buy a gun for snakes I’d get a cheap .410 shotgun, it’s got a bit more reach than the .22 or the pistol would. You can probably find one used for 100-200 bucks.

    Since I’ve already got a pistol, in my case I’d probably just get a box of rat-shot chambered in .38 or .357 if they sell it.

    Seriously though, by the time you went back in the house, found the gun, loaded it up and got back to the yard, the snake would be gone.

    My friend’s dad used to carry his pistol on the farm in case of snakes, but the only time I saw him use it (except for target shooting) was on a giant carp.

  10. Brad

    Ron, I appreciate the advice and the spirit in which it’s given, but for advice on how to handle a venomous snake to be fully useful to me, I’d have to WANT to handle one.

    Unless one is likely to jump into my hands unbidden, in which case the proper grasp would come in handy. Of course, that’s making the wild and unsupported assumption that I would remain conscious and clear-thinking throughout such an episode.

    But yeah, if I had to grab hold of one, I’d do it that way, not the Steve Irwin way. He might have known a lot, but he still seemed a few bricks shy of a load, may he rest in peace.

  11. Brad

    Silence, when you say, “Seriously though, by the time you went back in the house, found the gun, loaded it up and got back to the yard, the snake would be gone….”

    … I think you speak truth. And that’s just another reason not to like or trust snakes. They have no honor. I’ll bet one wouldn’t stick around and wait for me to get a gun even if I had my seconds call on his seconds and leave my card and everything proper.

    Hence the phrase, “snake in the grass.”

  12. Jesse S.

    I’m always depressed when I read about an extinct native species so guess the rattler gets a pass. It’s no Carolina Parakeet, but that’s our lot.

  13. bud

    Brad, there’s a huge difference between “healthy respect” for something and “unjustified panic”. Most people have a normal, healthy respect for strange dogs but don’t shriek in horror every time they see a toy poodle 50 feet away. But show them a green garter snake and a 200 pound fullback for the Packers will shriek like a 4 year old girl in terror. Yet snakes somehow transcend rational thought.

  14. `Kathryn Fenner

    Who knows what rattlesnake venom might be found to cure?

    Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and eat things that cause far more damage. We have invaded their habitat. If you don’t want them in your yard, keep it cleared of their natural habitat….

    Shame on anyone who kills one.

  15. Brad

    Weird. The WordPress app on my phone was refusing to let me approve Kathryn’s comment just now, and yet there it is…

  16. Lynn T

    When I think of guns and snakes, I think of entering the woods with several distant cousins, looking for an old family cemetery. One of the cousins was equipped with a handgun, and I was forced to think about it. What was safest? Rattlesnake? Copperhead? Cousin XXXXX with a loaded gun? No contest. Give me the snakes.

  17. Brad

    Silence, I’ve been thinking… the shotgun option sounds nice, but what I’d really like would be a fire-and-forget snake-seeking missile.

    Just tactical. Nothing big…

    A nice extra would be if it also dispersed a defoliant (an Earth-friendly one, of course) over a discreet area, to deal with the poison ivy. I’ve got LOTS of poison ivy, which denies a lot of our property to us…

  18. Tim

    Sorry Brad, but you have to have rattlesnakes, elstwise the end of True Grit would be pointless.

    “Rooster, help, a kingsnake rubbed against me!”

    And how many other Westerns would be similarly ruint.

    See. I have made mincemeat of your argument.

  19. Scout

    Or you could have your backyard certified as a wildlife habitat and teach your grandchildren to be birdwatchers and naturalists. Teach them to recognize poison ivy and where to expect snakes and how to respect them without getting in their way. Poison Ivy berries feed lots of birds and brush piles provide shelter from predators. You’re halfway there 🙂

  20. Steven Davis II

    “Or you could have your backyard certified as a wildlife habitat”

    Is this just another way of saying you don’t have to mow your lawn?

  21. Silence

    Brad, I think what you actually need is either:
    A) A Mongoose
    B) A Honey Badger.

  22. Silence

    @Brad – A crazy honey badger is definitely the way to go:

    They are immune to snake venom.

  23. `Kathryn Fenner

    Better yet, don’t have a lawn. we aren’t in Merrie Olde England or the savannahs of Africa. Native plants are easy and environmentally friendly!

  24. Rose

    “But show them a green garter snake and a 200 pound fullback for the Packers will shriek like a 4 year old girl in terror. ”

    I would love to see a video of that!
    Sometimes the freak-out isn’t even the snake’s fault:

  25. Brad

    Without a lawn, what would my man of business think when he comes out from town to get me to sign papers? It could cause a commotion. Insupportable, as Mr. Darcy would say…

    As for honey badgers, they may be all very well and fine, but I have a prejudice in favor of the mongoose, from past experience.

    As Burl can testify, the great contradiction is that Hawaii, which does not have snakes, is overrun with mongooses. Or mongeese.

    When we lived in Hawaii (on Olino Street in Foster Village), they were always trying to pry the lids off our garbage cans. I once saw a whole family of them crossing the road. But now that I’m in a place overrun with snakes? Well, Donovan said it best: Won’t be comin’ around for to kill-a you snakes no more, my love…

  26. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – What do you have against lawns? Not everybody wishes to live in an apartment building. Your line about England and Africa went over my head.

    So… how do you feel about golf courses?

  27. Steven Davis II

    ” Insupportable, as Mr. Darcy would say…”

    I must have missed that episode of Married With Children.

  28. Silence

    This thread needs more honey badger! Mongeese did their job – no more snakes.
    An alternative might be to bring in St. Patrick to drive the snakes out of your lawn.

  29. Brad

    Thought I’d add something I heard Rudy Mancke say on the radio the other day.

    A woman had written in to say she had killed a snake in her yard, but felt bad because she suspected it was harmless (even though it was a fat snake). Rudy confirmed that it was harmless, and gave her credit for feeling bad about it.

    Then he summed up rather as I would. He said look, if there’s a snake in your yard, you’d gotta deal with it — implying that even if you only suspected it of being poisonous, you were justified in killing it. BUT, he said, if you find one in the woods, that’s HIS home, and you leave him alone…

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