The chances of being bitten by a rattlesnake in Montana are less than being struck by lightning.  Nevertheless, people traveling in snake country should be aware of the potential danger.

Rattlesnakes are not typically aggressive, and they often–though not always–rattle to warn of their presence. Still, rattlesnakes will strike if startled or provoked. Rattlesnakes are venomous, and their bites can be dangerous and even fatal. While rattlesnakes are the cause of most snakebites, most bites do not cause death. You can help prevent snake bites with these rattlesnake safety tips.

Wear Protective Clothing

Wear a stout leather boot—at the very least covering the ankles. This will afford some protection against the fangs of a striking rattlesnake. Snake proof boots or chaps should be worn where snake densities are unusually high.

Watch where you walk and put your feet.

Be Alert

If in a wilderness area, use a walking stick and stay in the middle of well-used trails. Avoid walking through tall grass or brush. Always keep your children near you and your dogs on a leash. Watch where you are walking and learn to recognize the sound of a rattlesnake. If you hear a snake’s warning rattle, move away and do not make sudden or threatening movements. If you see a snake, stop and keep your distance (at least 10 feet) to give the snake space to get away.

Check Your Surroundings

Do not stick your hands into snaky areas—places like rocks, logs, or brush.

If you see a rattlesnake, tip your hat, detour around it, and keep going. Do not try to kill or capture the snake. Many people are bitten each year trying to do so.

Camping

When camping in rattlesnake country, keep a clean camp. Store firewood away from the tent and eating area and be careful retrieving wood from the pile. A rattlesnake may view your firewood pile as a wonderful new home.

Travel with Companions

Always travel with companions. A group of three is a good number—after an accident, such as a snakebite, one can stay with the victim while the other goes for help.

Carry a cell phone with you. Being able to call for help immediately after a snakebite reassures the victim and allows medical aid to reach you sooner.

Never Disturb, Handle, or Touch a Rattlesnake

If you see a rattlesnake, do not attempt to move or kill it. Rattlesnakes will generally leave an area if left alone. (If the snake is in your backyard or home, stay away and call the local Department of Animal Services, Fire Department, or 9-1-1). Even baby rattlesnakes are poisonous as soon as they hatch. If a snake appears dead, do not pick it up as freshly killed rattlesnakes can still inject venom, even if they have been decapitated! Rattlesnakes can swim, so never reach for something that looks like a branch or a stick in the water.

Keep Your Yard Free of Clutter & Debris

Rattlesnakes camouflage with their surroundings and hide to strike prey by surprise. Keep shrubs well-trimmed and consider removing bird-feeders, which can attract rodents, which can in turn attract snakes.

Teach Children to Respect Snakes & Never Touch Them

Children who are curious and handle rattlesnakes are often bitten. Children should be taught to leave snakes alone, the behaviors to avoid snake bite injury, and if they see a snake, to notify the adult supervising them.

Rattlesnake Bite Symptoms

Rattlesnake bite symptoms can be severe and include difficulty breathing, blurred vision, changes in blood pressure and pulse, extreme pain and swelling at the location of the bite, excessive bleeding, nausea and vomiting, weakness or collapse, shock, and tissue damage.

If You Are Bitten . . .

Only a small number of rattlesnake bites prove fatal to healthy adults.  If a rattlesnake bites you, the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife advises:

  • Stay calm
  • Wash the bite area gently with soap and water
  • Remove watches, rings, etc., which may constrict swelling
  • Immobilize the affected area
  • Transport safely to the nearest medical facility (if possible, call ahead to let them know you are bringing in a snake-bite victim. )

The latest research seems to show that snakebite kits do not work.  Get the patient calmly to medical care.  That’s your best bet.

Emelia McEwen  |  MACo PCT/WCT Sr. Loss Control Specialist  |  emcewen@mtcounties.org  |  (406) 449-4370