- July 1, 2020
Having grown up in Lycoming County and having spent most of the years of my life roaming its hills and streams, I have had the opportunity to witness many of the wonders that Mother Nature offers. From the blooming of trilliums and later Indian pipes in the springtime, to the birth of fawns and grouse
Having grown up in Lycoming County and having spent most of the years of my life roaming its hills and streams, I have had the opportunity to witness many of the wonders that Mother Nature offers. From the blooming of trilliums and later Indian pipes in the springtime, to the birth of fawns and grouse and turkey poults, the summer evenings fishing for native brook trout in small mountain streams, and culminating in the fall and winter hunting of wild game for the dinner table – our great outdoors has provided years of amazing experiences and wonderful memories. Yet, as I sit and reflect on these past interactions with nature, there is always one creature that continues to make my skin “crawl” just a bit, and that is the timber rattlesnake.
I am well aware of the interaction of all species and that each and every creature has a purpose in the balance of our natural world, but I can’t help but feel that the timber rattler has a function that can be fulfilled by other much more pleasant species. At least, this is my opinion, which you may or may not share.
While all species of rattlesnakes prefer to be left alone and, if they sense your presence, would rather move out of your way and be left undisturbed, they can, on occasion, be somewhat aggressive. It is said that during the period when they are shedding their skins and their eyes become glazed over in the process that they can be more aggressive. With their reduced visibility, they might tend to lash out, or strike at things that their limited vision does not allow them to identify properly. And there are the times when, if you come upon them suddenly and they are surprised by your presence, they may strike out of a sense of self-defense. This is natural on their part, but it can have very unpleasant results for you or your pet.
So, what can you do? The first step is to educate yourself about our timber rattlers. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced that they were taking the timber rattlesnake off the endangered list because their numbers had finally increased to a level where they no longer needed to be listed as endangered in Pennsylvania. For you, that means that there is an increased chance that you may encounter one when hiking, hunting or fishing. But, if you leave them alone, they will tend to leave you alone.
From now until late September is the time period when more frequent sightings of rattlesnakes will occur throughout the state. Rattlesnakes have emerged from their dens and can travel up to five miles and beyond as they range for food and search for a mate. Their mating season is from July until September and the birthing period occurs the following summer in late August and early September. Both males and females of the species can reach an age of 30 years or more.
Legally, there is a rather complex procedure in place if you want to take a rattlesnake and wish to comply with the laws. First, you will need a current fishing license and must obtain a valid annual venomous snake permit to hunt, take, catch, kill or possess a timber rattlesnake (or copperhead, for that matter). With the proper license and permit, you can take one per year during the season of June 13 to July 31, 2020. It must be at least 42 inches in length and must possess 21 or more subcaudal scales (identifying it as a male). But there is more to the regulation, and if you are serious about the proper procedures, you need to refer to the current edition of the Pennsylvania Fishing Summary handbook. Reptile seasons, limits and current regulations are covered in the manual.
In support of leaving rattlesnakes alone, I was told by an unnamed Fish and Boat Commission Law Enforcement Officer that “You should leave rattlesnakes alone since they are what keep the “Flatlanders” at home in the city!”
Timber rattlesnakes really do have their place in the general scheme of the natural world, and it is important that we take the opportunity to educate ourselves about them. In the meantime, maintain a healthy respect for them and if you come across one in your travels, give them a wide birth!