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It was early September, hot and Dove season in Northern Nevada, home of the Great Basin Rattler.
During the season I often went for evening Dove hunts on the Hermann ranch in Dayton valley where I lived. Most of my hunts were uneventful, until one week when it all changed. Normally, I drove my F150 4x4 pickup out to different locations to hunt the evening flight. That Monday afternoon I decided to walk from the house to a location near a pond about a mile away.
I arrived at my shooting spot under a tree in the sagebrush about 20 minutes early and had to go to the bathroom. I was under the tree and a foot or so from some tall sagebrush. I leaned my shotgun against the sagebrush to the left and as I was pulling my pants down, it appeared that something was moving near my left foot. As I focused on the movement through the brush, there it was… a snake tail with rattles attached, not six-inches from my foot. I froze in terror wondering where the head was. I was soon to find out!
I followed the body of the reptile, which was stretched out in a horseshoe shape, around the base of the bush. The tail was moving away from my left foot and the head was closing in on my right foot, now about two feet away and closing. The snake's movement was surprisingly slow, casual and non-threatening. Normally, I would just back away, except there I was up against a tree with my pants down around my ankles unable to retreat before the Rattler reached my right foot and heaven knew what his intentions were!
I had two options, either try to shoot him or do nothing and let him crawl around my feet and hope he wouldn’t bite me. It’s now been about a minute since I first saw him and the situation is getting progressively more dangerous. To reach for the gun would create some movement possibly provoking the reptile so I chose to stand still and hope he would slithered away before I died from fright! I stood still for another minute while he held his position, still unwilling to move.
Talk about feeling vulnerable… There I stood mostly naked from the waist down and feeling completely helpless. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to risk getting the shotgun. Try and picture this: the head and fangs are inches from my right foot and he’s now assessing the situation. Any fast movements and he would find my bare leg easy prey. With my left hand, I slowly reached for the shotgun trying not to move the rest of my body. As I lifted the gun over my head, the Rattlesnake reacted by lifting his head, but lowered it again and calmed back down after I froze in place.
Picture the shotgun held over my head unable to aim properly. The rascal was too close to my foot for a head shot, so I decided to slowly lower the gun without aiming and try to shoot the body about six inches behind the head and hope for the best. It worked! I pulled my pants up, cut the rattles off and proceeded to have a good Dove shoot.
Oh, but it wasn’t over yet. Three days later I walked to the same spot, carefully checked for snakes and started shooting Doves. Just before it was time to leave, I shot a Dove that fell in some tall dry grass near a small pond. As I walked through the grass, I heard the familiar buzzzzzzzzz of a Rattlesnake obviously upset by me. I knew it was close but I couldn’t locate it in the high grass so I didn’t know which way to run.
Frightened and confused, I just began crow hopping out of the grass making cowardly sounds and hoping the snake wasn’t in my exit path. After regaining my composure, I followed the buzzing sound back in and shot it before it got someone else.
It all began with a late afternoon ATV ride, above Johnson Lane in the Pine nut Mountains of Northern Nevada.
The temperature was in the 90s and the sun was just going down as I rode up a narrow dry wash. I knew the Rattlers would come out soon so I thought it best to turn around and go home. The wash was getting narrower so I had to ride slowly and maneuver around rocks and other obstacles.
Then I came upon a large boulder partially blocking my route and just managed get around it. On the other side was a spot to turn around so I did. On the way back I could barely squeeze between the boulder and bank. Just as I cleared the boulder, I caught movement on the lower bank to my right. It was a Rattler and he was coming down the shallow bank toward me fast! Before I could react, he positioned himself and struck at my right ankle, but bit my steel foot-basket instead, causing me to yell out and goose the throttle to ride out of danger.
I grabbed my pistol, jumped off my ATV, walked back and shot from about ten yards. I got him on the third shot. He scared me so badly I had to kill him out of revenge. I knew what had happened: the little 18-incher was there the first time I passed the boulder but he left me alone. The second pass provoked him to attack and he actually came after me like a sidewinder.
This incident took place in the foothills of the Sierras, East of Fresno California while I was deer hunting. As I crossed a brushy rock pile, there was a Rattlesnake between two rocks about 15 yards away. As I moved closer to get a shot, the Rattler tried to retreat into the rocks. I located him down towards the bottom of some brush surrounded by rocks about six feet below me. To get a shot, I had to lean forward slightly off balance. As I shot, the recoil caused me to lose my footing and fall right on top of the Rattlesnake that I had just missed! I jumped to my feet with lightning speed and superhuman strength and ran away leaving the Rattlesnake alone, as I should have in the first place.
Back in the 1970s, I was a dealer at a casino in Reno where I met the land manager for Occidental Petroleum Land Division. He had heard that I owned an airplane and asked if I could take him to survey some land they owned in California. While in the air, he pointed out a vacant ranch below that they had bought on speculation and also mentioned they were looking for a caretaker.
I told my pit boss and a couple of dealer friends about the ranch, which just happened to be within commuting distance to Reno. We all drove out to look it over and immediately fell in love with the place. We asked George, the Land Manager, if we could be the caretakers, he said; Yes, if you think you can live in a rundown Ranch house in need of repair, a mile off the county road with no utilities or phone. The two-story house hadn’t been occupied in over 15 years and suffered from vandalism.
As we started the clean-up process, we kept finding Rattlesnakes who were apparently feeding on the dozens of Packrats who occupied the house. The reptiles were in and under the house, under porches, and around the yard. We couldn’t walk outside at night without running into a Rattler. Before the summer was over I had killed 12 Rattlesnakes. Fortunately the only victim of a Rattlesnake bite was one of our dogs that tried to run a Rattler off our front porch and got bitten. He was sick for a few days then recovered.
I was fly fishing for Trout in the East Walker River at a place called the Elbow below Bridgeport California. Aware that there were lots of Rattlesnakes in this area, I chose to wade in the river wearing only shorts and tennis shoes to stay away from the snakes. As I was fishing, something compelled me to turn to my right just in time to see a two foot Rattlesnake swimming with the current about three feet from my right leg. A little shaken, I just watched as he kept on swimming away from me. Rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers!
Sun Baked Rattlesnake
One summer I was a member of a Hotshot fire crew that also worked in the woods of the Sierras between fires. This particular day I was assigned to swamp for a cat-skinner (safety watch for a Caterpillar operator). That day, we were headed back to camp and caught a Rattlesnake crossing the dirt road in the middle of the day. I commented that I’d heard that a Rattlesnake would die if left in the hot sun for 5 minutes. The cat-skinner replied, ok let’s find out as he stopped the truck, got out and grabbed the shovel.
I checked my watch as he approached the snake and proceeded to keep him on the road with the shovel. After 3 minutes, The Rattlesnake was acting funny, at 6 minutes he began biting his own tail, at 9 minutes he was done for and after 13 minutes, he was stone dead. Looking back, the whole incident was wrong, cruel and dangerous!
Statically, 80% of all Rattler bites happened when the victim was trying to kill a
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