Rattlers in the Neighborhood

We have a lot of them in our area. But then, no matter where you live in Montana you contend with something. We used to live in the west side of the state with the bears and mountain lions. Basically, we learn to be “aware.”

We have had several run in’s with rattlers over the years. Most recent has been finding babies in our neighborhood, both last year and this year. This is a good indication of a den somewhere in the area. Also in the neighbors garden two years ago.

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We pay more attention when working in the garden or going into the sheds and other outbuildings. And there is always concern for the dogs. I have a story about this further on.

There are about 10 snake species in Montana but only the prairie rattler (AKA the western rattler) is venomous.

Rattler Dens

They like to den in rocky outcrops or burrows made by other critters like gophers or badgers. But, any hole that provides adequate protection from the cold during winter could be a den. Besides burrows and such, they have been found under houses and other buildings. We found a den in an old well that had a lid on it. In the middle of the lid was a hole just the right size for them to go in and out. Oh it was by accident, as one day when my grandson and I were 4 wheeling around and went thru some old, vacant pig pens near where we lived. I mean very near, like, a couple hundred yards away. We spotted half a dozen or more sheds right around the lid of the old hole of some sort. It might have been a well. Finding the sheds right there was a good indication they were living below.

Prairie rattlers will begin to den when the temperature drops to around 42 degrees. And that is a very general number. We have seen them in October during hunting season.
If left undisturbed they will return to the same den year after year. They may den together with many in the same den, especially this far north where we have long, cold winters. It’s warmer in numbers. They may even den with other species of snakes.

Here is a short video of a den in Wyoming (not for the squeamish )

How far do they travel from their den is a good question. I have read that they stick around within 300 to 400 yards and I have read it’s up to a mile and read even up to 7 miles. Apparently no one really knows. I think a lot depends on available food. If they have to go further to hunt then they will. Considering that a common den might have 10 to 20 snakes (or more), that would take a lot of groceries in a small area for that many snakes and their growing babies.

Some think that the number of buttons on a rattle determines age. Not so. They will develop a new segment to their rattler each time they shed which can be up to 4 times a year. Babies are born with just one segment and can’t make a rattling sound until after their first shed when they will get another segment. NOTE: segments are sometimes lost over time due to wear and tear.

Getting Bit is No Fun

My husband got bit in the hand several years back. He was mowing along the roadway and stopped to move a rock. For some reason he reached with his hand. He most definitely knew better. We always kicked rocks away – but – apparently, he was not thinking and reached down to grab it and BAM. We were 20 miles of gravel from the nearest little hospital and as we drove I was pretty sure it was a dry bite as swelling and discoloration happens pretty quickly and there was neither. We went anyway to be sure. He was very lucky.

One of our dogs got bit about 5 years back. Now imagine the size of a pit bull’s head to begin with. Add a snake bite and dang her head was HUGE from the swelling. Her eyes were tiny slits. We called the vet and headed to town. By the time we got there the swelling was all gone. We could only assume her immune system was working super well and ran that poison thru fast. The vet said he had never seen anything like it. The next year she got it again but this time no issues. She had immunity after the first time. That was the one and only dog we ever had that got bit.

She was my big sweet girl. Has passed over now

Before we moved where we live now — we lived out in farm country. We rented a place from some farmer friends of ours. Their sister and family had lived there for a time but moved quite a few years before. The place had been empty and quiet for years. There seemed to be a lot of snakes around but we knew from past experience they would move out with all the new activity. Snakes generally do not like a lot of things going on around them.

After a year or so without seeing to many they began to show up again. Earlier I talked about my Grandson and I finding those sheds and assuming a den was in the area. We had a lot of snakes around that year. Far to many for my liking and for our dogs as well. I had dispatched one out behind the house near the garden and my husband got rid of another one on the front steps after he nearly tripped over it while taking out the garbage. I grabbed a picture before he took care of it.

One afternoon another of our other dogs alerted us with a furious bark. We went out and she was looking at a big one laying in the driveway about 15 feet from her. She was smart enough not to go near but also smart enough to know someone needed to get it out of there.

Something needed to be done and we started with the old well or whatever it was where we found all the sheds. I was not over there that day but hubby and grandson took care of it.

As with all farms we had a dump area nearby for brush and the like. It was a dug out area that had a lot of old limbs and brush thrown over. Later that fall we burned the pile and oh my gosh.. the snakes came out everywhere. We had been ready thou and dispatched most of them. The last couple years we lived there was much better. At least they were not showing up in the yard, driveway, garden, garage and front steps.

A couple of FYI’s:
Even a dead snake’s venom remains poisonous for awhile.
A baby rattlesnake is venomous from birth.
The rattlesnake can strike at a distance of about two-thirds of their total body length.

We have a lot of bull snakes around here as well. They look very similar to rattlesnakes and can mimic their behavior. While their coloring is very much the same, there are some distinct differences. A bull snake has a narrow head, round pupils and, of course, no rattles. The rattler has a broad triangular head, narrow neck, thick body and rattles. To tell you the truth I do not stand around trying to study them before taking care of them.

A video of the difference between a rattler vs bull snake

If you should ever get bit try to remain as calm as possible and not move any more than need be. The more you move the faster the venom spreads. The faster your heart pumps and blood flows, the faster the venom moves. Immobilize the bitten area if possible. Then hurry to a clinic or hospital. In our area, even the smallest hospitals generally have antivenin handy.

Have you had any rattle snake encounters?

Author: Linda Carlson


7 thoughts on “Rattlers in the Neighborhood

  1. I found this extremely interesting, especially w/ my son hiking the fourteeners. He can see one breed of bear on a mountain and another if he’s somewhere else. I know we have snakes for sure but I’m always warning him about the bears and mountain lions that I know are roaming around. We’ve mentioned snakes but we haven’t “talked” about them really. hmmm
    I watched a special just this week about the people that take the venom out of the snakes to make sure they constantly have the antidote. I was watching them catch them and squeeze their head into what looked like test tubes. So that’s whats they do every single day – catch and squeeze, catch and squeeze. Not a job too many people would want; but needed by so many.


      • Strange thing – I’ve only heard about people trying to catch them to get the rattle. Guess that’s really not a good idea!! Plus, I really didn’t know a whole bunch of them could live in a cave like that. Now I’ll be really sure to tell Michael to kick a rock aside rather then pick it up for sure! I know he’s careful and he and the guy he goes with supposedly know the dangers of where they’re going but even when you know, things can happen. We have very experienced climbers get stuck, lost and fall all the time in CO.


  2. We have timber rattlers here where I live but I’ve never seen one (and I’d prefer not to!) We also have lots of more benign snakes, which I like to find here and there in the garden as they keep the mice and such down. I’ve seen some pretty good-sized water snakes down at a nearby park but they’re not venomous. We also had a ring-necked snake living in the chimney of our outdoor fireplace. When we dismantled it, I managed to grab him by the tail and relocate him out to our stone wall. Found out later they’re actually mildly venomous (oops!), but rarely bite.


  3. Ugh! I’m SO not a fan of snakes. Luckily, we’re so far north we don’t get snakes here – or ticks (yet) due to the extreme cold. However rattlers are found in southern Ontario, Canada, where my dad grew up. He says that twice (in the late 1950s) he came across rattlers in the countryside near Windsor. No thanks! lol


  4. Snakes give me the heebie jeebies! Bleh! We have 6 different kinds in Alabama that are poisonous. And like you I do NOT hang around to see if their eyes are round or slits. But Mr. Menace has a fascination with them, so I don’t immediately kill them any more. I let him check them out first.
    🙂 gwingal


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