How to React to a Rattlesnake

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Western Diamondback rattlesnake, the most popular in Arizona.
Western Diamondback rattlesnake, the most popular in Arizona. (Image: Photo by Ryn Gargulinski)

A friendly frolic in the desert, or even a romp in your own backyard, can turn deadly if you run across a rattlesnake and don’t react in the proper manner. Rattlesnakes attack when they feel threatened, so you want to do everything you can to make sure he knows you want nothing to do with him. This can be done in a few simple steps that explain how to react to a rattlesnake.

Things You'll Need

  • Quick wits
  • Slow movements

Stop immediately when you see or hear a rattlesnake. No matter if you are midstride, running for a bus or in the middle of your daily walk, do not take another step once you see the snake or hear his rattle.

Gauge your distance from the snake. If you are far enough away that the snake did not see you and he is not rattling his warning or has his head poised ready to strike, turn around and run. If you are close to the snake and he looks ready to attack, proceed to the next step.

Stay still like a statue. After your immediate halt, stay absolutely still. Then slowly begin to back away from the snake in tiny, barely discernable steps.

Continue to slowly back away until you are far enough away that he can no longer hit you if he strikes, then you get to turn around and run. Rattlesnakes are not going to go slithering after you at top speed through the desert, but they can strike a distance of half their body lengths. Stay slow, fluid and gentle in your movements until you are at least half his body length away.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you’ve never heard a rattlesnake’s rattle, you may be surprised. It does not sound like a conventional rattle, a baby toy or a can of dried beans being shaken. A rattlesnake’s rattle is much more like a hissing sound.
  • Even if you don’t see the snake but hear the hissing rattle noise, stop and try do determine where it’s coming from. Then move in the opposite direction.
  • Rattlesnakes rattle as a warning that they are about to strike if you don’t get on down the road.
  • If you live in the desert, you may want to visit your local museum or wildlife center and see if you can listen to a rattle so you will be aware of the sound.
  • If you live in the desert, you may also want to enroll your dogs into rattlesnake avoidance training. Trainers use a live snake and a shock collar to deter your dogs from ever wanting to go near a rattlesnake. This is helpful since dogs don’t have the patience to read and abide by the above steps.
  • If the rattlesnake is in your yard, get yourself, your pets and your children safely inside and call for the fire department or wildlife control to come get rid of the rattlesnake. Don’t go back outside until you are sure the snake is gone and not simply hiding under the deck or a bush.
  • Never move closer to a rattlesnake just because you are curious. Go look in a book, for goodness sake.
  • Don't poke at a rattlesnake to determine if he's dead or just sleeping.
  • Don’t try to kill the rattlesnake. Chances are very high you will get bit in the process. Rattlesnake bites can be deadly.

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