ARTICLE: SNAKES by David L. Falconer
Snakes. The very word incites some people with a primeval fear of the serpent, one of the oldest emblems of evil.
As an outdoorsman I have had many encounters with snakes through the years and I expect to have a few more in the future. We travel too many of the same places and every year I encounter a number of snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous.
In Eastern Oklahoma we have three kinds of poisonous snakes. The copperhead is the smallest of the venomous snakes and they are known for frequenting rocky areas or old brush piles. One of the largest ones I have ever seen came sliding out from under a large piece of tin I pulled out of a pile of rubble alongside my dad's old barn. We quickly cut his head off with an ax we had laying there handy. It was cold and he was moving slow, but he had set up to hibernate for the winter less than 100 feet from the house.
Cottonmouths are the most aggressive of the venomous snakes. They are short bodied snakes with a stubby tail. I have been struck at by more cottonmouths than any of the other snakes combined. Twice I have narrowly avoided them with a spry jump over them as they lay in my path. Another time, I leaped straight back as my 20 gauge semi-auto shotgun ripped the snake into several pieces right at my feet in the path home from the creek where I had been squirrel hunting. A shotgun is a devastating weapon at close range.
Rattlesnakes are the biggest of the reptiles but in my opinion they are the most docile of the three. Perhaps docile is not the correct word, but they are not as aggressive as their smaller cousins except when they are shedding, known locally as "in the blind" because they can not see when they have recently shed their skin. Larger snakes are more likely to give warning bites, dry of poison than the smaller snakes, but a hurt snake is going to empty his venom sack. I have walked back and forth within 6 inches of a rattlesnake before and he never rattled, he never moved and he never struck.
We owned a rock quarry on our property in Oklahoma and it is nestled several miles off the closest paved highway and rattlesnakes were not uncommon. We had killed several in the quarry where we had intended on working when we arrived in the mornings. This particular time we had put several pallets in a staging area shared by my in-laws for their rock quarry they worked on their property. I had been walking beside the pallets of rock, checking weight tags and documenting what belonged to us. I sat down on a pallet of rock to figure up my total weight in the different classes of rock.
When I moved the pallets to the loading area, there was a 3 1/2 foot rattlesnake coiled next to the edge of the pallet where my foot had stepped a million times that day. He lay less than 6 inches away and he never even rattled. Thank God I had not dropped my pen and have it roll under the pallet!
Was I lucky?
More recently in Goliad on a hog hunt we were searching for a big boar Mike shot Saturday night during the morning on Sunday. We were about to head back home, but I knew Mike had hit that big boar pretty hard and I thought we might find it.
David Huber, Chris Lucci's friend and neighbor joined us in our search for Mike's boar. I rode with David to where we had filmed the hunt the night before. I had made acquaintance with David when we teamed up to work on a broken video cable that had almost spoiled our first hunt video of the weekend. Beneath that rancher's exterior was a mechanical engineer retired from the Aerospace industry. He had also forgotten more Texas hog lore than most other hog hunters know. I liked him and he knew Chris' ranch as well as Chris does.
We spread out and moved through the tall grass and mesquite. I had given Mike my .40 S&W Springfield to carry while holstering my Glock 19. That Glock 19 and I know each other well and while the 9mm is not my first choice for a back-up gun with wild hogs I was confident I could put them where I wanted them to go.
Near the last sight of dried blood, Mike had just moved off from it when David cried out snake and I saw the slithering rattlesnake just a few feet ahead of me. My hand drew the Glock, David firing his .45 ACP at the rattler as it tried to get away in the thick grass. I joined the attack and we soon had several holes in it as David drew a small .22 revolver and shot the snake with a dose of rat shot. Mike stepped in with my .40 and shot the snake through the head at almost point blank range.
The entire time David Dell had been screaming and running back and forth because through the brush it appeared our arms were extended and shooting in his direction. Okay, maybe not screaming but definitely shouting to let us know where he was at.
Mike cut the tail off the snake; his foot firmly on the snake’s decimated head at David's insistence.
As we stood looking at the snake and the rattles David related a recent tale from a friend of his who had shot a rattler in his yard. He shot it with a shotgun and then went into the house and got a knife. He came back out and stepped on the rattler's head, cutting off the rattles and going back in the house.
The next morning his friend came outside and there was his dead rattlesnake -- with its rattles still attached!!!
Yeah boy, that raised the hair on my neck!!!!
If you spend enough time in the woods in snake country you will eventually encounter a snake. Not all varieties are poisonous of course but even the non-poisonous ones can give you a very quick start if they appear suddenly from thick cover or grass. A spread adder bought the farm for popping up right in front of me on the path home from hunting along the creek. My reaction time back in those days was pretty quick and when it came to snakes, I shot first and identified the snake later!!
An old friend of mine, Jeremy Oliver, and I used to frog gig all over the countryside around where he grew up south of Keota, Oklahoma. We hunted the ponds and the sloughs, taking some big frogs. I never will forget us stalking quietly through the lily pads, water above our knees when Jeremy stopped right in front of me. That's because in front of him was a big cottonmouth intently hunting the same deep voiced bull frog we were after. Then he disappeared into the water.
If we had witnesses that night you would have seen a biblical experience because I am pretty sure Jeremy and I both ran across the top of that water back to the bank!
My grandpa tells of an experience his dad told him of fishing Tucker Bottom which is along the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma. Tucker Bottom had a lake in it and it was an overflow lake from the rise and flood times of the mighty Arkansas. A cottonmouth tried to get in their boat and one of the other fishermen broke its back with a paddle. The snake put off a scent and suddenly the lake was covered with snakes. They had to shoot a box of .410 shells killing snakes just to get back to the bank.
Jeremy and I saw this same thing on a smaller scale one night. We had been out for a long time and had gone to some ponds we had not gigged in over a year. Neither of us had a watch and we had been out half the night. Sue, Jeremy's mom came looking for us because she was worried we had went out and got our fool selves hurt, but we hadn't. We had a bunch of frogs and I believe we were only a few from our limit and Jeremy wanted to gig a pond down the road that had been too far for us to walk.
Well, Sue wasn't too keen on waiting on us and she talked us into gigging a small pond behind the neighbor’s house. We agreed, just happy to be getting to gig some more and she dropped us off, expecting us home in 30 minutes or less.
Let me state this right now. Jeremy had been dying to gig a snake. Yeah, I know, if you gig one, you gotta get it off the gig, right? Well we had discussed this and Jeremy was sure we could do it. I had a .22 revolver with me and six shots.
The first thing we encountered was a big cottonmouth in our path. Before I could say anything Jeremy gigged it. The snake struck at the pole and curled up it as Jeremy went to shaking that gig, trying to get that snake off the barbs.
Cursing and dancing, trying to get the snake off, Jeremy asked me to help him and I said, "Hell no, that's your snake! You wanted him, you got him!"
Jeremy finally got the snake off and it went to the center of the pond. We started around the pond bank to look for frogs and suddenly there were snakes everywhere. A small slough ran off to the east of the pond and I saw at least two snakes come over the pond dam. I shot all 6 shots from the revolver at snakes and we finally beat it out of there as snakes slithered all around us.
Jeremy told his mom that she had sent us to the most dangerous pond we ever went to!