How NOT to catch a Rattlesnake.
The story of my rattlesnake bite.
See the video!
Go here for a 13 minute TV segment that ran
on The Outdoor Channel in July 2002 detailing the event .
Broadband only! It's 26 megs of high-definition streaming
let me know if you have problems.
Let's get one thing straight from the onset: You do not need to fear going into the backcountry as a result
of the story you are about to read. I have been backpacking in
Yosemite for 22 years and this is the first time I have even seen a
rattlesnake. So, with that in mind,...
Also, I apologize for not having
any pictures of this gruesome event, but we did get plenty of video
Little Yosemite Valley campground.
We had just returned from the hike up Half
Dome and were preparing for dinner when we heard murmurs of a rattlesnake
curled up "over there". Curious, we went to look and saw a 4-foot
Western Rattlesnake curled up right in the middle of a heavy traffic area in
the campground. This snake definitely needed to be moved because there
were many children around and neophyte adults, and it was lying in a
high-traffic area between the fire pits and the main body of camp sites. I
proceeded to try to "herd" it out of the area. It did not want to
cooperate, so I made a decision to try to catch it and move it to an
Now, having caught many rattlesnakes when I
lived in Texas, I had no fear, but I did not have my normal snake-handling
tools, so I had to improvise. I found a long semi-stout pine branch
with a split end, and then went and found the suspect critter. There
he was, sure enough, a four-foot Western Rattlesnake. He was not in a
defensive mode, appeared not to be aroused, so I first attempted to herd him
out of the area. All he wanted to do is move slightly and curl up
again, apparently, wanting nothing except to be left alone. This was
not possible inasmuch as someone was definitely going to step on this beast
if left in the area. So, I decided to go ahead and catch him, lift him
from the ground and carry him deeper into the adjoining forest. He was
not moving quickly, and actually seemed lethargic. So, I felt
confident pinning his head against the ground and proceeded to move with my
left hand to grab just behind his head, gain a secure grip and lift the rest
of his body with my free hand. This is where the problems started.
You never approach a pit viper from either the
left or the right, as they have heat-sensing pits just below and to the
front of each eye that detects the warmth of a small furry mammal such as
mouse, rat or small rabbit. Instinctively, they will strike at any
object from which they sense body heat. As my hand was radiating just
such heat, the snake whipped around very quickly, and bit me on the left
index finger with one fang. I immediately began to suck the poison from the
wound. I sucked as hard as I could for as extended a period as I could
for the first 10 minutes. I felt as though I got a good portion of the
poison out, as my mouth began to be numb, and I felt a light-headedness that
produced a tingling feeling all over my scalp. Unfortunately, and this
was a mistake, I proceeded to become angry and killed the snake with a hard
twist on the pinning stick, thus decapitating it. I buried the head,
as it can still bite for several minutes after death.
not feel any pain, except for the minor pain of the fang prick for about ten
minutes. At about fifteen minutes I began to feel real soreness in the
finger, and swelling began. I proceeded to my campsite and informed my
backpacking buddy, Bob Larsen of the accident. He thought I should get
help from the ranger, but I did not feel the bite was that bad, and hoping I
received a dry bite (no invenomation) I opted for cleaning the site,
continuing suction with my snakebite kit, and taking Excedrin for pain.
As luck would have it, and right about the time I was beginning to
reconsider my decision, a park ranger came by and we told him what had
happened. He immediately radioed for the helicopter to take me out of
the back country, and we then met a helicopter in Yosemite Valley that would
take me to the hospital in Modesto.
By the time I got to Modesto, about 80 minutes after the bite, my hand was
in severe pain and the swelling had spread to my entire hand. The
medical personnel began to stick needles in me literally left and right.
I had three IV's, one for saline, one for antibiotics, and a third for
snakebite antivenin. I received 20 vials of antivenin, thus cleaning
them out of all they had, and also received massive doses of antibiotics.
At about 2 hours after the bite the pain was
beginning to be unbearable. I asked for pain medication and they gave
me morphine AND Vicodin with very little effect. I slept very little
that night, what with 3 IV's and a throbbing, very painful hand that had to
be positioned in an upright position to reduce bloodflow to the hand, thus
reducing swelling pressure slightly. By midnight my hand was swelling
to the size of a softball and the pain was very pronounced. I came
close to having to have my hand debrided (slit open to relieve pressure and
allow blood flow to the tip of my finger.)
For the next four nights I slept no more than
45 minutes at a stretch and experienced constant extreme pain, with the
morphine and Vicodin only taking the edge off the pain.
I spent four days in the hospital and after
being released I was home with a fever of 101 degrees for two weeks.
After the swelling went down at about 6 days, I experienced pain in all my
joints; I could not lift a glass of water, brush my teeth, or any other
common bodily function. This lasted about 2 days.
All told, I was bed-ridden for 18 days
straight and it was almost 30 days until I could return to work (mortgage
If you want to see more of what a poisonous snakebite
can do to you,
here. These are actual photographs of snakebite wounds.
Beware, it's graphic and gross.