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The Roving Sportsman… Timber Rattlesnake Season

Having grown up in Lycoming County and spent most 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 abundant outdoor sporting opportunities that this area provides. Through the years, my respect for all of nature’s wonders has continued to grow, particularly for the rattlesnake.

While most rattlesnakes prefer to be left alone and, if they sense your presence, would instead move out of your way and be left undisturbed, they can occasionally be somewhat aggressive. It is said that 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 you come upon them suddenly, and they are surprised by your presence; they may strike out 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 there is an increased chance of encountering one when hiking, hunting, or fishing. But, if you leave them alone, they will tend to leave you alone.

There is a rather complex procedure in place if you want to take a rattlesnake (or copperhead). 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). The annual cost of the permit is $30.00 for residents and $60.00 for non-residents. Venomous Snake Permit holders must submit a catch report regardless if they did not hunt or hunted and did not harvest. With the proper license and permit, you can take one Eastern copperhead and one timber rattlesnake per year during the season, which this year runs from June 10 to July 31. The timber rattler must be at least 42 inches long and possess 21 or more subcaudal scales (identifying it as a male). However, there is more to understand regarding the regulations. 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. If you come across a rattlesnake, give it a wide berth and make 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 effectively repel 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 the scent of ammonia repels rattlesnakes; therefore, 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 put the bags around the garden.

The good news is that there are much fewer reported rattlesnake bites than one would imagine. In fact, on average, there are only two or three reported annually, with occasionally none being reported at all. Take time to enjoy our great outdoors, but just be aware that an encounter with a rattlesnake is possible, and use common sense if you do so.