Rattlesnakes have an elaborate defensive strategy, seeking to avoid the need for a venomous bite if possible. Most of the time, rattlesnakes will not strike at people unless they feel threatened or are deliberately provoked.
Awareness and Avoidance
The best way to avoid dangerous encounters with any wildlife is awareness and avoidance. Always be aware of your surroundings using your eyes and ears, and avoid wildlife that you see or hear.
- Watch for snakes basking in open, sunny areas such as pavements, rocks, trails or roads. It is acceptable to walk off trail to avoid them.
- Watch where you place your hands and feet at all times, watching for areas such as rocks or logs that could be sheltering a rattlesnake.
- Do not hike with headphones or earbuds in so you can listen for a rattlesnake's distinctive rattle.
- Protect your feet and ankles as they are usually closest to rattlesnakes. Sturdy leather boots afford good protection; do not hike in sandals or flip flops.
- Use extra caution around dusk when human visibility drops. Use a light and be sure to wear boots, even in camp.
- Travel in groups. More people means more opportunities to see or hear a snake and more people to call emergency services in the event of a bite.
If an encounter with a snake is unavoidable, take these precautions to stay safe:
- Freeze in place. Snakes are often heard before they are seen. If you hear a rattlesnake, FREEZE in place until you or a companion can locate the animal. Attempting to move away from a snake you can’t see may lead you closer to it! Even if the snake is in plain view, freezing movement will reduce the threat you pose to the snake and help you calmly assess the situation.
- Establish space between you and the snake as they can strike from a long distance. A good rule of thumb is to put at least five feet between yourself and the snake. If possible, move slowly back the way you came.
- Leave the snake alone. NEVER, under any circumstances, should you try to catch, kill, provoke or move a rattlesnake. One-third of people who suffer snake bites were bitten as a result of trying to handle or kill the snake. Move around the rattlesnake at a safe distance out of its way.
- If you find a snake in your home or garage, call your local wildlife office for directions. In urban areas, many pest control companies can remove them for you.
The best way to keep your pets safe from rattlesnakes is to keep them on a six-foot leash as required on most public lands in Colorado. Dogs in particular are known to be very curious animals that ignore a snake's defensive posturing.
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