If you know Richard Fagerlund, or have read his book My Path to the Bugman, with an Earth-Friendly Guide to Pest Management for your Home and Garden, then you’ll know he’s a big fan of many of the critters that scare the sanest amongst us.
So, with summer hikes on our minds, we asked him our burning question: What do we do if we encounter a poisonous snake while walking in the woods?
Here’s Richard’s response:
I recently got a non-bug question. Non-bug? How can I answer that? I think I can.
The question is what should someone do if they are hiking out in the woods—or anywhere in nature, really—and encounter a venomous snake.
First, let me say some snakes are venomous, and I recommend doing some photo research before entering the wild to see what kind of snakes you might possibly come upon. But remember, none are poisonous. Venoms are injected and poisons are ingested. Toads can be poisonous if you lick them and some mushrooms are poisonous if you eat them. Therefore, a snake can be venomous, but not poisonous.
Always carry some kind of stick when walking in the wilderness. I carry a golf club. If you see a venomous snake, just stop and see what it does. It won’t come near you unless it doesn’t see you. Let it go on its way and then you can continue on your way. Obviously this is the best outcome for all involved, because they have a right to life just like we do, and I always espouse and advocate the Do No Harm principles whenever I can.
If it is rattled (coiled up and rattling), then go a long way around it and keep going. If you accidentally step on a venomous snake and it bites you, don’t panic. You will most likely be fine. Venomous snakes usually only inject a little venom unless they are really mad, then they can give you a full dose.
[Our note to self: Don’t piss them off! Duly noted.]
Snakes don’t like to waste venom as they need it to gather food. Take a Benadryl, which you should carry with you at all times while hiking, and then go back to your vehicle and to an emergency room if one is nearby. If you have someone with you, obviously you want to let them drive while you meditate (ha!) and try to remain calm. If you are way out in the wilderness, call for help and, again, try not to panic. If you panic, your blood will flow quicker and that can cause you problems.
Admittedly, I have experience with this. I have been bitten nine times by venomous snakes, but only two bites were bad enough to require medical attention. I never panicked, I just lived through the pain and swelling. When I encounter a venomous snake, I pick it up and take a selfie or have someone take a picture, then I let it go.
But I must put my disclaimer out there: never try to pick up a venomous snake in the wild. Only weird people do that. Color me weird.
Interested in reading more of Richard’s encounters with animals, and checking out his earth-friendly solutions to summer pest management? You can pick up his book at any of these links, below.
Happy—and SAFE—Summer Hiking, everyone!