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The Roving Sportsman… Pennsylvania’s Timber Rattlesnakes

Having grown up in Lycoming County and spending most of the years of my life roaming its hills and streams, it has been a natural progression to be an avid lover of nature and to enjoy the outdoor sporting opportunities that this wonderful area provides.

Through the years, my respect and admiration for all the wonders of nature has continued to grow – except for the rattlesnake.

Yes, 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 timber rattlers do not fulfill a purpose that cannot be fulfilled by other much more pleasant snake species. At least, this is my opinion, which you may or may not share.

While most 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 occasionally be somewhat aggressive. It is said that during the period when they are shedding their skin and their eyes become glazed over in the process, 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 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. It was in 2017 that 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.

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 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 Eastern copperhead and one timber rattlesnake per year during the season, which runs from the second Saturday in June to July 31st each year. The timber rattler 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 regulations are covered in this manual.

The breeding season for our rattlesnakes here in Pennsylvania runs from summer until mid-September. This is when the most sightings occur since the snakes can travel up to a mile from their home area or den as they look for a mate. With the deer archery season soon to be upon us, archers will scout areas to hunt starting September 30th and might likely encounter a rattlesnake on their scouting trips. If you spot a rattlesnake, give it a wide berth and make a note of the location so that if you return, you can be on higher alert as you travel through.

If you are encountering rattlesnakes near your home and want to repel them, there are several things you might do. It is said that snakes do not like to crawl over rough or sharp items; thus, wood chips used as mulch or crushed gravel may be effective in repelling them. It has also been said that rattlesnakes do not like the smell of coffee grounds; thus, gardeners sometimes scatter coffee grounds in the garden area to repel rattlesnakes. It has been shown that rattlesnakes are repelled by the smell of ammonia; hence, one of the most effective ways to keep them out of an area like a garden is to soak ammonia into rags, place them in unsealed plastic bags, and place the bags around the garden.

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!”

Rattlesnake bites are a medical emergency and can be fatal if left untreated – seek medical help within half an hour if bitten!