I saw my first snake of the year last week. It was a six foot long black snake, lying on a pile of old lumber that is down the hill from the house. I was happy to see him, as I have always believed that black snakes will kill or run off copperheads and rattle snakes.
When I was about 8-years-old I was fascinated by snakes, frogs, toads and lizards. I read every book the library had on them and decided that I needed some for pets. This resulted in George Cadle and me going out at night with flashlights and nets to capture frogs. Two boys, ages 7 and 8, roaming the creeks alone at night would get our parents charged with felony child abuse today, but that was a different era.
We caught some pickerel frogs, leopard frogs and spring peepers, all of which were carefully examined and then released. I caught a few ring-necked snakes and one huge green snake, but never could get them to eat so they were released. After that, my encounters with snakes were all in the wild.
When I was about 13, I went with Grandaddy and his nephew Foster to the old home place to camp out for three nights while he made markers for his grandparents graves. Our first night, we had made camp beside the old well. Explaining that the water in the well would not be safe to drink, Grandaddy started off to a nearby spring. Foster said: “Simon, what in the world are you doing!”
Grandaddy said: “I am looking out for a snake.”
Foster replied: “You are standing on a copperhead!”
He was standing on the middle of the biggest copperhead that I have ever seen. He stepped off of it, and I promptly shot it with my .22 rifle. It was too close to us to let it live – it would likely have curled up to us for warmth during the night.
Later in my life, I found that Texas has an abundance of rattlesnakes. The little prairie rattlers usually will not bite a human, but the western diamondback certainly will. On Labor Day, 1991 I was dove hunting near Dawn, Texas. About 1 p.m. I was walking back to my truck, my trusty Labrador by my side, when I heard a buzzing sound that was not one of the many grasshoppers that were in the field. I stopped and looked around, and about a foot on the other side of my Lab was the head of a diamondback, ready to strike. I stuck the barrel of my shotgun over Summer’s back and the snake looked into the muzzle. The blast eliminated its head, and we laid it in the road for the hawks. After a few more hunting trips there I concluded that I was getting about as many rattlers as doves in those fields and started hunting elsewhere.
When we first moved here, we had several copperheads. My wife was bitten on her finger and two of our dogs have been bitten on their noses. When the first dog was bitten we found out that anti-venom is seldom used these days, as it is hideously expensive, takes several doses to be effective, and about 50% of people are allergic to it. The treatment is lots of Benadryl, Lasix to move fluid out of your body, fluid intake to replace the lost fluid and an antibiotic. That has worked well for us.
Fortunately, most snakes are harmless and actually beneficial, eating mice, insects and other small vermin and not doing any damage to the land. They usually stay well hidden, and we do not advertise them as they can scare off visitors. They also attract those who want to kill all snakes. As any farmer who has a corn crib will tell you, that is a mistake.