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Tips for those living in snake country

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POSTED August 30, 2010 2:21 a.m.
Over the past several years, I have developed a couple educational programs for presentation to the general public.

In addition to Flyfishing, Flytying, and Fighting City Hall, probably my most popular presentation is Rattlesnake Wrangling, which seems to be of interest to folks of all ages and backgrounds.

As I interact with audiences, we cover a wide range of rattlesnake lore. It seems that almost everyone has a rattler story. Something about those buzz-tailed critters seems to fascinate us.

If we spend almost any time at all outdoors there is the chance that we will have an encounter with a snake. Logically enough, the more time you spend outdoors, the greater your chances of interacting with a rattler.

I love the outdoors and love to spend time at a wide variety of outdoor pursuits.  If you’re an angler, hunter, or a rock hound, or enjoy outdoor photography you may run into a viper.

If you’re a water skier, float tube angler or bird watcher, you’re likely to see a snake from time to time.

If you own a summer cabin in the forest you’ve almost certainly had snake run-ins.

Naturally, folks who reside in snake country will more often find themselves in contact with our little scaled friends. The stories of snake encounters are as varied as our populace.

They are almost certainly exciting, often humorous (but only after the fact), and sometimes educational.

A few years ago, I was out reducing a local fellow’s snake population on his ranch in the foothills west of Tracy. Bill has 80 acres with a nice ranch-style house, and a collection of barns, shops, and outbuildings to support raising a few cattle.

My partner, Don McGeein, and I were working a pasture uphill from the main house when we heard a pickup horn honking repeatedly. Gazing down the hill, we saw the ranch owner waving his arms excitedly for us to join him.

When we got down to the house, Bill pointed out a nice fat rattler coiled up on his covered porch about 4 feet from the front door!

We were able to catch the rattler with little trouble and add him to our collection sack. Bill was rightly worried that having a large rattler on his porch might present problems for his grandchildren.

His wife wasn’t real happy about it either. We have a standing invitation to come back and remove rattlers from the house area anytime.

OK, so you live in snake country. What do you do? How do you co-exist with snakes? Here are a few ideas.

First and foremost, be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention and watch where you walk.  Heck, that’s pretty good advice anywhere and anytime. Just like you should keep a defensible space cleared around your house to reduce fire danger, it also helps to reduce snake encounters by reducing the places where a snake can hide.

Clear the brush and boards away from your dwelling. If you need to have a lumber stack to keep boards handy for repairs and what not, fine. Just keep it out by itself and not stacked next to your house or shop. Is it a little inconvenient having to walk an extra 50 feet to get that board? Yes. But getting your kids snakebit is far worse.

Growing up in a state with Spanish heritage, I always heard that the Estancias established before the Gold Rush regularly kept king snakes around their yards barns and outbuildings.

Not only do the non-venomous snakes eat rats, mice and squirrels, but since they compete for the same food as rattlers, the competition for food helps reduce rattler numbers.

Believe it or not dogs, cats and even pigs will also keep rattler numbers down. I heartily recommend that you get your dogs vaccinated with the new anti-snake vaccine available from your local vet.  

I have seen ads on the Internet touting anti-snake barriers or electronic gadgets to keep snakes out, but I’m not really sure how well they work. Caveat Emptor, or “Let the Buyer Beware” is pretty good advice too.

Check it out before you buy.

While there is probably no single way to completely eliminate snake encounters if you live in snake country, a little prevention and common sense preparation will make things a lot safer. Remember, watch where you walk!

Until next week,
Tight Lines

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