The newsletter from the Virginia Wildlife Rescue League reported the following incident.

A man, his partner and her 4 year old daughter were walking in Farquier County (a rural county), when they saw a snake, about three feet long, thin and striped, on the trail.

The man told his partner and her daughter to go back to the cabin -- and this seemed (not clear) to involve passing the snake. So the man picked up the snake close to its head to get it out of the way. The snake bit the man twice on the hand, and, it turned out, that it was a rattlesnake.

The man lost consciousness within a very few minutes. He survived, but was in very bad shape for several days, with a great deal of internal bleeding.

It is clear that he did the worst thing he could have done, but, what would have been the best thing to do?

Also, does this sound like a case of an adolescent rattlesnake not being able to control its venom output? There was a question about this point a few months earlier. See At what point is a rattlesnake mature enough to control its venom?

This particular snake was in Virginia, USA. From The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (Rattlesnakes in Virginia), it was probably a timber rattlesnake, which grows to 36 to 60 inches (90 to 152 cm). Also known as the velvet tail or banded rattler.

  • That's two questions. I'll answer the first one
    – Escoce
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 3:26
  • 1
    Do you have ways to create fire? If yes just set fire on a stick and put it close to the snake. This will make most( if not all) animals to flee
    – Freedo
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 1:05
  • 2
    If you don't know each other introduce yourself.
    – Glenn
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 15:19
  • 4
    The most common places to get bitten by a snake are the hands and the face. The most common risk factors are being young and male, and being drunk. If you do not pick up the snake you are already way ahead
    – gbronner
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 6:20

7 Answers 7


Already some great answers here. TBH, haven't been able to go through all of them, so adding in a short summary as what I do and ask people to follow.

Answer to question 1:

  1. Rule of thumb: Never ever ever ever try to handle a snake.
  2. If you don't know what snake it is, whether venomous or not, or a semi-venomous, refer rule #1.
  3. If you don't know a snake well enough, you obviously don't know how far it can strike. Then, should you go near it? No. Refer rule #1.
  4. If you know what snake it is, beware, refer rule #1.
  5. If you don't know a snake well, you can never be sure whether it's a juvenile or grown adult; in that case refer rule #1.
  6. If you don't know a snake well enough, you don't know if it is haemotoxic, chemotoxic or neurotoxic, refer rule #1; but WHY do I need to know that? Because if somebody is bitten, the medics will ask you what snake it was, and how it looked, so that they can start treatment with the appropriate anti-venom.
  7. If it's not passing, and just laying on the path, ask someone to keep an eye on it and the other should see if you all can try to take a longer turn and bypass it.
  8. If there is no way to bypass it and it doesn't move, wait, keep an eye on it, keep a very safe distance, bang your feet, in most of the cases it would just mind its own business and disappear. No snake likes to be poked with a stick. I believe poking a snake with a stick is part of don'ts, like don't provoke them, don't irritate them.
  9. Most of the time, snakes happily avoid a face-off with any threat whatsoever, not only typically human. They know you are closer, than it being the other way round. So most of the times you would come across one, it's because you entered its hiding place, or habitat. So, even if you don't know what snakes there are in a particular area, it's okay, but you would want know where they usually are so that you can avoid those places. Example: An abandoned mine.

Stay safe.

I am glad that you are willing to know more and asked the question #2: +1 for that.

Unless it is not specified that which rattlesnake it was, you can't tell. As we all know, rattlesnakes are of different types. They are further classified into Crotalus (the larger ones) and Sistrurus (smaller ones). Please note that this classification is not based on its physical size.

There are 30 Crotalus species identified, 2 or 3 debated about. And there are 3 Sistrurus species identified.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Western diamondback rattlesnake, South American rattlesnake, Timber rattlesnake, Red diamond rattlesnake, Mojave rattlesnake are the common Crotalus ones.

The largest of them are usually Eastern or Western Diamond Back ones. Eastern Diamond Back rattlesnakes can grow up to 150 cm (approx 5 ft). Though Laurence Klauber have documented 7 ft long Eastern Diamond Back rattlesnake. Western Diamond Back rattlesnakes are typically 4-4½ feet long. So that quite normal if you come across a rattlesnake and it is 3½ to 4 feet long, it dangerous.

There is an exceptional case that I would love to tell you about. Crotalus ones are larger ones, right. Exception: Side Winder. The average adult is 2-2½ ft long.

Massasauga, commonly known as Black to Grey Rattlesnake, is a Sistrurus one and can grow up to 2½-2¾ ft. This fellow further has 3 subspecies that I am not going to talk about.

The whole point is, it doesn't matter if a snake is juvenile or grown, a rattlesnake or some other Pit Viper or some Adder which also is a Viper but not a Pit Viper. Gobbledegook?

Stay safe, stay away, Since you can't be assured that a smaller snake is more dangerous or less dangerous.

In this particular case you have talked about, unless I don't know what rattlesnake it was, I can't really say if it was a juvenile or an adult one.

UPDATE: After your edit, you answered it yourself. Grows up to 3 and a half feet. The poor fellow was bitten by an adult Timber Rattlesnake.

  • 3
    Great... rule 1 confused me, and now I'm down a thumb...
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 11:06
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    And i'd add that if you know a snake, you may be mistaken, so refer to rule #1.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 0:11
  • 1
    ??? Way overthinking this. Learn to identify the local poisonous snakes (in the US there aren't that many and they're almost all rattlesnakes). Only touch those that aren't poisonous. I could identify every local variety of rattlesnake and differentiate between them and gopher snakes by the time I was 5. You have no excuse.
    – dkippers
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 1:52
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    @dkippers: I applaud at your ability to identify and distinguish between rattlesnakes. Though it is so, with all due respect I disagree that this an overkill of a thought. Not everyone can identify All snakes in a particular region all the time. If the answer was so simple as in you are saying, we would have never heard of snake bites. I can identify snakes that I see in my region, you can identify snakes in your region. But that may not be the case for someone else reading this answer right now.
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 17:10
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    @WedaPashi Snakebites almost exclusively happen when either someone didn't see it and got too close or they were actively messing with the snake.
    – dkippers
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:15

The best thing to do is just avoid it completely. If you can't go around because the bush is too thick, find a plenty long enough stick and get it off the path. The snake won't chase you, it's just defending itself. Do NOT pick the snake up with the stick, just get a hook on it as best you can and fling it gently off the path.

  • 4
    Hi, I am new in this community. I have noticed that unlike other communities, we don't provide evidence/support/references here. Any particular reason why? Also, whatever answer people give here, is it based on personal experience? I find it hard to believe that common people would have such experience to answer these type of questions even for a working class person who takes 2 long vacations a year. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 4:50
  • 6
    Sometimes people will provide evident/support/references etc. However, it is not required as the answers are peer reviewed by up voting the best answers. The best answer should rise to the top. You will also find people on this website who have extensive experience with their specialized activity (i.e. beyond the 2 week a year). Discussions such as this one are better suited in the chat room or on the meta site. Welcome!
    – ppl
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 5:04
  • 3
    I would have up-voted for first line. But would make me down-vote for the rest of it. I wouldn't recommend taking a snake off the trail with a stick. Unneeded.
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 9:10
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    @ChrisH the point isn't to threaten/scare the snake away, it's to physically move it. A long stick allows you to stay safely distant from the snake while pushing the snake off the path (or, preferably, hooking under the snake and flinging it further off the path). You're not trying to piss it off, you're trying to get it away.
    – Doc
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 18:53
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    I am using my "tyrannical green checkmark powers" to give the check to WedaPashi. (Thanks to @ Mindwin for a lovely phrase.) But I owe Escoce a reason. Flicking a snake off a trail is simply not something just anyone should do, and I don't want to say that this action is OK for everyone. (My experiment with the belt and the hiking pole was inconclusive, because the belt was too floppy.)
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 21:44

I basically agree with Escoce's answer but you should give the snake a little more time. In the most cases it tries to avoid you and will flee as soon as you come too near.


The best thing to do is just avoid it completely. If you can't go around because the brush is too thick. Then find a plenty long enough stick and get it off the path.

If it really doesn't want to move the really long stick is a good option.

Reference: From Runner's World:

Yes, they're out there, but it's fairly uncommon to come across a snake while on a trail run—and even less common to have a problem with one if you do. But, if you're wondering how to best handle an encounter with a slithery friend, read on.

We consulted with Alan Williams, ecologist at Shenandoah National Park, where 10 or so common species—including the venomous northern copperhead and timber rattlesnakes—roam in the wild. This is his sage advice:

Q: Most people want to know, first and foremost, what they should do if they encounter a snake on a trail. A: "Giving it a wide berth is the best thing to do. Let it be. Don't provoke it. It'll likely try to get away from you as quickly as possible.

We tell visitors: If you're in a busy place where you're trying to help the snake from getting run over, use something really long to shoo it off the trail—a long stick. Don't pick it up, even if you think it's not poisonous. They will try to get away. Don't corner them.

Snakes likely try to defend themselves if they're cornered or harassed. Bites are mostly reported by people who've been playing with snakes. But for a hiker or runner, the chances are very slim."


Truthfully, it’s best to give any snake a wide berth. Rattlesnakes, of course, are venomous and generally easy to identify (more on this below), but to be safe you should always assume a snake in the wild is venomous. And anyway, the bite of a nonvenomous snake can still be extremely painful and may cause infection.

First, quickly observe the snake’s posture. A coiled rattler that is audibly shaking its tail (rattle) is probably preparing to strike. Or, at the very least, none too pleased.

If this is the case, back away quickly but carefully — you don’t want to trip and fall in your haste to get away.

However, while a snake may strike across a greater distance if coiled, snakes can attack from any posture. Further, don’t assume the lack of an audible rattle indicates the snake is sleeping, ignoring you, blind and deaf, or full. A rattlesnake may rattle only a bit—or not at all—before striking. Also, a young rattlesnake may have an undeveloped rattle.

Do not attempt to poke or prod the snake with a stick or other object in an attempt to get it to move out of your way. This will only annoy the snake and make it more likely to strike. The best solution is to wait until it clears the trail.

Once it starts to leave, visually follow its progress to make sure it’s far from the trail before you continue on your way.

Most snakes can strike a distance of half their body length. This means if you encounter a six-foot snake, it can easily attack any object within a three-foot radius, with zero warning. For this reason, it’s best to wear thick hiking boots, which may prevent fangs from piercing your skin.

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The snake rules for the hiker:

Be aware of when and where you are most likely to encounter a rattlesnake. You are most likely to encounter rattlesnakes when you are hiking, climbing, camping, or even walking to see a tourist monument.

Most rattlesnakes prefer hot environments, with some preferring desert climates but others, such as the Eastern Diamondback, prefer a moist climate. The majority live in the southern United States and Mexico, although some are found in Canada's Badlands desert region in Alberta and in British Columbia around Hedley, Keremeos, and Osoyoos.

Rattlesnakes like summer evenings the best, just as the sun is going down and when it has gone — they are most active nocturnally in summertime. This just happens to coincide with the frailty of human eyesight kicking in as the sun goes down, so take care. Use a flashlight when walking about and wear good footwear.

Rattlesnakes like warm days, period. Be it any season of the year, even winter, a rattlesnake can venture out in search of the warmth — suitable air temperature for rattlesnakes is around 70° and 90°F (21° to 32°C).

Most rattlesnakes are not generally sitting about in the open — if they are in the open, they are moving through it much of the time. Rattlesnakes want to avoid contact with predators who can easily spot them in the open, including humans and large animals. As such, you will most likely encounter rattlesnakes around rocks, shrub and brush, or wherever there are nooks for them to hide among. However, on sunny days, you might find rattlesnakes warming themselves on warm rocks or asphalt.

Dress appropriately. When in rattlesnake country, do not be blasé about clothing — the majority of bites occur on the hands, feet and ankles. So, apart from not sticking your hands where they shouldn't be, clothing becomes an important protection ally:

Toss the sandals — this is time for good quality, thick hiking boots, and decent socks. Over the ankle boots are best, as ankle bites are common. Do not wear sandals, open-toed shoes or bare feet when walking in the desert. There are more things than rattlesnakes awaiting your foolhardiness if you do.

Wear long, loose-fitting pants.

Use gaiters if possible, especially if you choose not to wear long pants.

Behave appropriately when hiking, climbing, walking. When in rattlesnake territory, think like a rattlesnake to keep your mind on how they might behave so that you can behave accordingly:

Always hike with at least one buddy. If you are alone and bitten, you will be in dire trouble. Carry a cell phone that works and alert family or friends of your intended hiking course and duration.

Stay out of the way. The easiest way to avoid rattlesnakes is to keep out of their way. Keep alert as you hike, walk, and climb. Stick to well-used trails and do not wander off into tall grass, underbrush and weeds where rattlesnakes may be hiding.

Do not stick your hands in the wrong places. Don't stick your hands down holes, under rocks and ledges or even into brush when you are walking around. These are key hiding places for rattlesnakes. When hiking, it is best to carry a sturdy staff, or at least a long, sturdy and light stick, to help prevent using your hands in areas where snakes may hide.

Don't sit down on tree stumps or logs without first checking inside. You might just be sitting on a rattlesnake....

Step on and not over. When you need to cross logs and rocks, it is sensible to step on the objects rather than straight over them. This way, you can spot a rattlesnake that may be sheltering under it and can take evasive action quickly.

Look before you leap. Take care where you land your feet. A foot coming straight down next to, or on top of a snake is asking for a bite. Snakes rely on vibration to hear and while they can sense you coming if you have stomped about loudly enough, they cannot deal with removing themselves fast enough if you blaze up a trail quickly and provide little warning of your approach.

When walking, carry a stick, and whack bushes and undergrowth a bit before you walk on/near them, and snakes will get away. They'll go under bushes or thick grass immediately, so don't put your feet in/on those places! If you must step on those hiding places, probe them a bit first with your stick, so the snake has a chance to get away.

Move out of the way. If you do walk into the range of a rattlesnake, calmly back off as quickly and quietly as you can.

Take care around water. Rattlesnakes can swim. Anything resembling a long stick might be a rattlesnake.

Do not provoke a rattlesnake. Angering a snake will result in one response — you become its target. Remember — a snake is defending itself from attack in such a case and if you poke it with sticks, throw stones at it, kick at it or do silly little jigs around it, you are asking for trouble. And worse still, there may well be a difference in the venom between an angered rattlesnake and one reacting quickly in self-defence — the toxicity may be increased, whereas a surprised rattlesnake may only bite without injecting venom (possible, not certain). Whatever the strength of the venom, an angered rattlesnake will be more likely to keep striking.

Leave the snake alone. Many people are bitten in the process of trying to heroically rid the world of one more bothersome snake. Apart from the snake not being bothersome, the snake is going to bite you to try to defend itself. Live and let live — back off and let it have its space to slither away. And be warned — there is a reason for the saying "as mad as a cut snake" — an injured snake is a very, very dangerous foe.

Further watching:

Former Marine and current ready hiker, Chris shares comments on how to properly prepare for encounters with Snakes On A Trail. We show you what we have to help you in your hiking adventures. Remember, don’t be that guy. Be a ready hiker.


Further reading:


Response for the question #1:

I grew up in an area filled with Prairie Rattlesnakes and in grade school we were taught the following. It always worked for me and during summer vacation it was common to come across a rattler every day.

Before reading the steps please be warned that the Prairie Rattlesnake is known to be less aggressive and wants to flee people so these steps might not apply in areas with the more aggressive rattlesnakes.

  1. Do not kill it
    • In many jurisdictions its illegal to kill rattlesnakes
    • Many species are endangered
  2. Give it space and go around if possible.
  3. Do you see the snake or hear it?
    • If you only hear it – Stop moving immediately and try to quickly locate it
  4. Now that you see it, is it coiled up or stretched out?
    • If it is coiled up, it is agitated and/or scared.
    • If it is stretched out, you haven’t scared it, but they can still strike a good distance from that position, so the same steps apply.
    • Back away from it slowly with a steady pace. This is important as moving fast or jerky might scare it further and make it defend itself.
    • Stay facing it and be ready to react in case it comes towards you or strikes.
  5. Keep backing up. A snake can strike a pretty good distance, farther than most people realize.
  6. Once at a safe distance make some sort of vibration noise that the snake can feel.
    • We were taught to stomp our feet or loudly clap our hands.
    • Typically this will make the snake continue on its way.
  7. Once the snake starts moving pay attention to where it goes, it doesn’t do you much good if it just moves a foot off the path. You might have to continue making the vibration type noises.
  8. Once the snake has moved, you can happily go on your way.
  9. If it doesn’t move, or stays coiled up, then best is to go around or leave the area. I’m not a fan of the fling with a stick method as you typically have to be within striking distance to make this work, and how often do you have a good snake flinging stick with you?

In my experience using these steps the rattler has almost always moved out of my way. Personally I would never mess with a rattlesnake so the idea of using a stick to fling the snake seems crazy to me. I remember my dad using a shovel to fling rattlesnakes off the path all the time until the one day the rattler started to climb up the shovel handle, that put an end to that technique in our household.

  • +1 Glad you and your father survived! Out of curiosity, how many of your friends, neighbors, acqaintances were bitten?
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 0:13
  • @ab2 When I was living in the area (15 years) no one was bitten that I was aware of. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 19:09

1) Try to not get in their way

Generally, snakes would not attack a human unless cornered. So if you spot a snake on your path, try to go around it if it's possible.

Unfortunately snakes love to sun bake, and that means that on a warm day in a bushland with known snake presence, there is a good chance you will spot one on a human trail because that's one of the places where they can get the most sunlight.

Personally, I have run into 3 snakes in one day while hiking the Great Ocean Walk, they all slithered away from me.

2) Getting out of their territory

I have heard stories from fellow bushwalkers/hikers about how they were stalked by snakes. I can't verify those stories because I was not there. But some species of snakes are more aggressive than the others and in breeding season they might become territorial.

If you see many snakes in an area, i.e. near a creek, common sense should tell you to not go near where those snakes are.

And if you are already in the snake's territory, get out of it.

3) Prevention is better than cure

If you go into total wildness with no mobile reception, it's best to bring a BLP (personal locating beacon) with the group. In snake infested areas, wear thick enclosed shoes, ideally with high ankle support or with gaiters. Making loud noises, so snakes know to get away from your path.

Remember, you are not on snakes food menu and they are afraid of you just like you are afraid of them. So if you give them space, they will leave you alone too.


Already some very good answers above. Just share my real experience here.

I met a rattlesnake once when I was hiking in Arizona at a late afternoon. Lucky that I was able to spot it on trail from some 4~5 feet away, rather than stepped on it (otherwise I might not be able to write this answer). While I stopped and backed off for more safe distance and watching, the resting snake also saw me and then just slowly (should I say "confidently"?) moved out of trail and slid into the bush at the roadside and disappeared.

I waited some half minute and my teammate threw a rock randomly into that bush to make some noise in order to further scare it away. Not sure whether it is a best approach though.

And then I quickly ran through that spot, and looked back from safe distance. From that angle, I could see the snake actually slid away from the scene for 10 feet already. So I signaled my teammates to quickly pass. We even took a picture of that snake too. :) You can see its tail on the following picture.

It is quite big

  1. You freeze. You look at the snake. Do not wave your arms or make sudden movement. If the snake don't move away from you. Look behind you & slowly back off. Do not stumble or fall. Find a safe way around the snake or retreat. Move slow! Never try to find out what type of snake! There are look alikes. Normally snakes are not agresive. Always be on the lookout for them. Were I live we have 3 type of cobra, 3 type of pit viper, 7 type of ring snake or you call them coral snakes, 3 type of true vipers, Also the only place in the world with fresh water sea snakes. The spitting cobra range 12 to 14 foot a spit. So freeze, back of slow, leave them alone. Only way to chance a snake is 30 foot & a good shotgun.

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