Snakes are some of the most feared creatures on earth. The thought of a puncture by a pair of venomous fangs is enough to send anyone into panic mode. But as frightening as the encounter might be, the first thing to remember is that while rattlesnake bites are serious and do require medical attention, they are rarely fatal, even in pets.
Joe Kreuzman, instructor, founder and director of Coyote Trails School of Nature in Medford, says people are most likely to encounter the Pacific Northwest rattlesnake in dry areas, especially on south-facing slopes. “Depending on the time of year, there are pockets around Table Rock and Lost Creek Lake where they’re prevalent.”
If you do come upon a rattlesnake, he says, freeze and back away, especially if it’s coiled. “You will hear the rattle, which is a sound you never forget,” he says. “They can generally only strike as much as they are coiled up. Most snakes are between 3-5 feet long, so in that case you’d want to be 5 feet away. They can’t jump or leap out at you so you’re safe at that distance. They are not aggressive, but you don’t want to startle or antagonize one.”
Snake encounters of the worst kind
In typical Hollywood snakebite scenarios, crusty old cowboys used crusty old knives to cut an X across the wound and heroically sucked out the venom, presumably saving the life of the “fatally” bitten victim. In real life, Kreuzman says those methods are ill advised. “More damage is done when people do this kind of field repair than from the snakebite itself.”
Bites most often occur in the hands, fingers and lower extremities. “If it does happen,” Kreuzman says, “try to remain calm and move out of harm’s way. Then clean the area with plain water. Don’t use ice packs or cut the wound or try to suck the venom out. You also don’t want to use a tourniquet. None of these are effective methods of treating snakebites.”
There will be swelling, Kreuzman warns, so depending on the location of the bite, it’s important to remove any jewelry if you’re bitten on the hand or fingers or remove socks and shoes if you’re bitten on the lower extremities like ankles, feet or calves. “If you have a pen, mark the time of the bite and the area so you can tell how much it’s swelling. If possible, stay put and wait for emergency responders, or if you are in the backcountry, slowly start to get yourself out to where you can get help or get to a hospital. The main thing is to remain calm. You have enough time, and if you follow those procedures you’ll be fine.”