There are a few questions about how to avoid rattlers, and what to do if you're bit, but at what point does a rattler actually strike?

I had my first rattler encounter ever yesterday, just out in the coulees down by the river, right on the walking path. I was pushing my little girl on her bike and all of a sudden the grass 2ft to my left started rattling, the instant I glanced down and caught a glimpse of the coiled snake hiding in the grass, I quickened my pace and got past it, but had it decided to strike instead of rattle, my little girl could be dead right now (most scared I've ever been with an animal encounter, and I wasn't at all worried about myself).

This was the snake in question (see the video the taken with my camera phone).

If you encounter a rattler, how should you act, what should you do and what shouldn't you do? Do you freeze and back away slowly? Do you turn and GTFO? Do you dive for cover? When a rattlesnake gets his rattle on, what exactly is the desired reaction it's expecting from you, and what other indicators does it give you that a strike is imminent?

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    After you spot a rattlesnake nearby, traditionally the next thing to do is to say, "Dude, hold my beer and watch this."
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 1:42
  • 3
    "This was the snake" You mean you went back and videoed it? Or that's somebody else's video of a rattlesnake that you found? If the former, *boggle*. Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 9:13
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    @david I went back and got the video, after getting my family to a safe distance first of course.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 12:34
  • No answer because I have no personal experience (thankfully!) but I've heard an old-timer swear by carrying a revolver loaded with tiny shotgun cartridges when deep in rattler country, specifically to dispatch snakes. Apparently there can be so many snakes you risk stepping on an unseen one while avoiding the one you do see, and dispatch is preferable? Obviously this is not a solution that is applicable everywhere.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 13:46
  • 1
    @Mr.Wizard Typically referred to as snake shot, funnily enough. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_shot Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 16:33

7 Answers 7


When a rattlesnake gets his rattle on, what exactly is the desired reaction it's expecting from you, and what other indicators does it give you that a strike is imminent?

It's a warning that it's there, it's not necessarily a warning that it's about to strike (though of course, it could.) Likewise they won't always rattle before they strike.

However, bear in mind rattlesnakes don't particularly want to strike you. Humans are too big to eat as prey and could easily kill the snake before its venom kills you, so it's not its preferred option.

Most rattlesnake bites occur when the snake is being actively teased or toyed with (in fact a lot involve intoxicated individuals), not to random passers by.

With that in mind...

If you encounter a rattler, how should you act, what should you do and what shouldn't you do? Do you freeze and back away slowly?

Yes, pretty much this. Don't make any sudden movements that could startle it, just calmly and slowly walk away, making sure you don't trap the snake in a particular area or make it feel threatened.

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    Good answer, +1. Rattlers are not aggressive. I've have 3 or 4 encounters, and in all cases the solution was just to detour around it while it continued sunning itself. The thing that does worry me is that I'll walk around a corner and step on one before I see it. Also I've seen both my dogs go running right over snakes on the trail (not rattlesnakes) without even realizing the snake was there. Not much you can do about either of those possibilities, unfortunately.
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 1:44
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    @BenCrowell My dog ran right over a juvenile rattler on a trail without being bit. The snake was in-between me and the dog, with the dog walking toward me. When I commanded him to sit, he ran to me to sit in front of me, passing right over the rattler. The rattler didn't rattle until after he had passed over him. For the rest of the day we practiced sitting at a distance with a new command.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:46

Mate, I am so glad to know that you and your daughter are safe.

First, Rattlers are often found under rocks and logs, particularly if the temperature doesn't suit them. So instruct your kids and other concerned people about it.

Rattlesnakes are typically capable of striking up to a distance equal to ⅓ to ½ of their overall length, although longer reaches are quite possible.

Lets answer first things first.

If you encounter a rattler, how should you act, what should you do and what shouldn't you do? Do you freeze and back away slowly? Do you turn and GTFO? Do you dive for cover?

A snake sees (senses) you before you can see it, so be assured that it does know you are around. That's why in most of the cases it will start rattling, but please note that when the rattle is wet, it makes no noise. Needless to say, If you see a rattlesnake coiled and/or rattling, that means it’s agitated. Keep away, Leave it alone. Wait for the snake to leave the trail. Do not shout at it: it can't hear, because it has no external ears like ours.
Do not make sudden movements, instead back away slowly. Though snakes do not see well, they have Jacobson's Organ which is an olfactory organ allowing it to process the chemical senses received by flipping of the tongue. Vipers, as they are called Pit Vipers have pits (looks similar to nostrils) to sense changes as small as 1/1000 °C. It usually perceives sudden movement as a threat. Diving for cover doesn't make sense.

When will it strike?

Rattlesnakes, like most of the Viper snakes, coil their body except for the forward part of the body which is raised. The body is a bit more bulged up than normal and they usually buzz their rattle. There is another persistent and common myth that rattlesnakes always rattle before they strike, which I disagree with. Also, they don’t always strike every time they rattle.
Short story: It can't be predicted like that; you need to study them deeply. May be an experienced herpetologist can predict better. So, assume that it can bite anytime, and move away slowly.

what to do if you're bitten

  • Remain calm and first move beyond the snake's striking distance.
  • Keep calm; panic will make the adrenaline come into the picture and the blood circulation will increase, only resulting in causing the venom to spread much quicker.
  • If a phone is available, dial 112 or whatever emergency number you are authorized to dial.
  • Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
  • Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
  • Do not let anyone try to suck the venom out of the bite site. (I have heard cases of such a horrid thing done, and the one who sucked also got to be treated as the venom in victim's blood entered the sucker's blood through minute injuries in his gums/teeth).
  • Try not to make cuts around bite site as it swells. It will swell, no matter what.
  • Do not apply any kind of disinfectant or tourniquet.
  • Do NOT take anything by mouth such as caffeine or alcohol or any painkillers at all.
  • I thought the Jacobson's Organ was olfactory, and not temperature sensing? Great answer either way...
    – loneboat
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 14:22
  • @loneboat: Clarified about sensing mechanisms in Vipers. Thanks to the comment about Jacobson's organ being olfactory. I perceive it less as a smell and more as a signature, but nonetheless, Rightly pointed out by you. Thanks.
    – WedaPashi
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 5:23

Stop and move away. Generally that's all you need to do. The rattle is a defensive warning. Develop the instinct (and teach your kids to do so as well) that you freeze, locate it, and move in the opposite direction the instant you hear a rattle, and you should be fine.


When a snake rattles at you, it wants you to move away from it.

Rattlers will warn you first before striking, giving you enough time to move away. My wife and I were hiking once in the desert, she was ahead of me and passed right by a large diamondback snake that was curled up next to the trail. He coiled up and rattled at her, scaring her so that she jumped, screamed and ran back to me. He didnt' strike.

But if you suprise a rattler by stepping on it or touching it before it has a chance to warn you, then you will get bitten. I met a guy once who went rock climbing in the desert, he put his hand into a crevice and was struck by a rattlesnake. So he made his way back to civilization (about a 3 hour journey) and to a hospital. He was not in danger of dying, but what happened was nerve and tissue damage to his hand. Some of the tissue died, his hand was numb and oddly colored for a month. Then it mostly recovered, except for some lingering nerve damage to this day.

Generally accepted knowledge is that adult humans won't die from a rattlesnake bite, assuming it's a controlled bite. Younger children/elderly people would be more at risk.

Younger rattlers, due to their inexperience, have more tendency to strike than older rattlers, and also have more tendency to inject more venom. But rattlers only want to inject venom into prey that they intend to eat. People do not fall into that category, so the rattler does not want to do this and will avoid it whenever possible. Rattlesnake venom is a necrophic agent, meaning that it kills the tissue cells it comes in contact with.


Rattlesnakes will generally only strike when provoked. That is the very reason we hear them rattle. Keep in mind a rattler cannot produce more venom quickly, so they too prefer to flee rather than bite. Young snake tend to be more aggressive and do not know how to control their venom. If you hear one close to you, back away slowly. Once far enough away they will go their own way. It that simple. Not every bite is envenomed and keep in mind that their teeth are somewhat fragile. Stepping on a snake will get you bitten for sure. Here are a few tips I use in areas where rattlesnakes are present.

  1. Walk in the middle of a path.
  2. Wear high leather boots as most bites are just above the ankle.
  3. Avoid walking in tall grasses. Not all rattlers will make a noise before striking. If you step on one, you cannot see, you will be bitten for sure.
  4. Be extra careful in hot evening if you are near water. They are more likely to be out and about as the heat of the day dissipates in order to cool down in the water.

One can read more on avoiding rattlesnake bites from Wikipedia.


This looks like a Prairie Rattler. I'm guessing you're in New Mexico or Arizona? These are usually very docile animals; they don't want trouble. I have had a couple that were tame enough that I could handle them without holding their heads. Don't bother them, and they will definitely not bother you. Very passive creatures. But like any animal, don't back them into a corner.

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    I'm in Canada, but in the part of Canada a straight shot north of Arizona.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 6:46

Living in the land that has more types of poison reptiles than any place in the world, I will give this advise:

Freeze on sight of a snake. Try to identify the snake. This is important as antivenom must be flown in fast. There are varieties of snakes even in same family of snakes. You do not want the generic antivenom. Or just a snake bit me. They assume cobra. But we have many others also. If by then the snake is not moving off. Slowly back off to safety.

  • 2
    Although this may be good advice, it doesn't answer the question, which is specifically the behavior of rattlers.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 22:35
  • If a guy wants to know precisely when a rattlesnake will bite, what he actually needs to know is what to do after he is bitten ;-) Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:33

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