Rattlesnake Bites

I was on my way back from town – Williamsport – early this afternoon, driving the detour on St. Michael’s Road from Old Rt. 15. I am forced to make this two-mile longer trip due to my usual route of Rt. 973 being closed due to replacement of an old metal overhead truss bridge on Lycoming Creek. I had not driven a quarter mile on the road, I was going maybe 25 mph, when I saw something with my car and I immediately recognized it as a snake. I straddled it, not figuring it was anything other than a road-killed black snake. Then I remembered my neighbor and Lycoming Creek fishin’ buddy, Jim, telling me that our other neighbor, has seen a few rattlesnakes in that area of St. Michael’s road. It’s little more than a mile from my home. In this section the road passes along the base of a wooded mountainous area, rather steeply-sloped toward the south-east. That exposure combined with the dappled sunlight created by a partially open tree canopy and lots of rocks creates perfect rattlesnake habitat.

I no sooner passed over it when the thought occurred to me – was that a rattlesnake? I stopped and put the car in reverse. Not much traffic on the road, usually. When I got beside it and opened the door, sure enough, it was a rattlesnake, a smaller one about two feet long. Apparently a vehicle that passed by not long before me had hit it in the rear third of its body. No details but it was still alive, almost appearing dead, but not quite. I looked at it for a minute, wishing I had my camera with me – the eastern timber rattlesnake is not that common, and then I drove on.

The last one I saw was five years ago right here at my house, in my driveway. I never saw it until I got out of the car one morning, opened the trunk, got something out and with my mail in one and hand and whatever in the other, I started toward the back door. Then I heard the “buzz.” It was five feet from me, right on open gravel beside my patio. Startled I was! As I instinctively backed up it slithered into a corner landscaped area of shrubs and flowers between the patio and garage. Skipping the details of the next minute, (I usually have loaded firearms in the house); it was a large black rattlesnake that measured 44″. The mid-section of its body was as large as my forearm.

My father-in-law had lived in this area all his life, then at age 82, and he said it had been decades since a rattlesnake was seen where we lived “in the valley.” In the mountains a mile distant, another story, not common, but if one were to go looking for them one could probably find one.

In 2004 my wife and I encountered another rattlesnake while biking one evening on the Pine Creek Rail-Trail just above the village of Blackwell. Prior to that, I was still in high school when I had last seen a rattlesnake.

Where does that fit in with fishing? Well, some area streams keep the more timid anglers among us away just by the word that a number of rattlesnakes have been seen. Slate Run, possibly Cedar Run, both tributaries  to Big Pine Creek, to name a couple. Just ask Tom Finkbeiner, owner of The Slate Run Tackle Shop, and he’ll show you plenty of rattlesnake photos.

This also ties in with my recent posts and discussions of Elizabeth Benjamin, a 19th century fly tier from Ralston, Pennsylvania; my recent evening fishing trips to Lycoming Creek, and from referencing the 1879 book, Bodines or Camping on the Lycoming, by Thad S. Up De Graff, which I pulled off my bookshelves to see if any information on Elizabeth Benjamin was in his book. I discovered a paragraph on the treatment of rattlesnake bites. That, combined with my encounter yesterday have spurred me to write this post.

I wanted to conclude by presenting the paragraph written by author Thad S. Up De Graff, MD., from Elimra, New York; the author of Bodines, who gives his “medical” advice for treatment of a rattlesnake bite. The guy should know, right? He was a doctor, and had spent ten years, camping and fishing for a month each time on Lycoming Creek below the village of Ralston.

Quoting the good doctor Up De Graff:

“Rattlesnake bites are best treated by applying a cloth saturated with liquor ammonia over the bite, and immediately administering large doses of whiskey. Let the patient (I love how he refers to the bite victim as the patient ), drink all he will hold, or until intoxication is induced. Many physicians doubt the efficacy of this treatment, but I have seen it employed in several instances and am confident of its success. It acts upon perfectly scientific principles, sustaining the nervous system under the shock induced by the poison.”

I’d say it might be better to watch your step while fishing or traveling on foot along streams or to and from the stream when in areas of rattlesnake habitat, and never place your hands in an area you can not see. Otherwise you might have to get drunk.

Kids: Don’t try these perfectly scientific principles at home.

I drove back up a half hour later to hopefully get a decent photo I could use here; rattlesnakes are beautiful in their own way, but the poor snake had been de-rattled and run over a few more times.

12 comments on “Rattlesnake Bites

  1. Jeff Turko says:

    I asked Tom at Slate Run about the snakes up there a couple of years ago. He replied something to the effect, that most people he had seen get bitten by rattlers over the years were usually guys trying to impress their girlfriends. Of course he told it with much more color. I’m just paraphrasing but I got a kick out of his insight. Great post as always.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Thanks for the reply! I have sen some of the photos that Tom has in his album in the shop. Now he has a laptop with photos. If you wanted to find a rattlesnake, that area would be a good place to look. I hope I never get bit by one…
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Kelly L says:

    Oh I don’t like venomous snakes of any type. I don’t mind kingsnakes, but that is about it. I had two dogs here at my house get bit by cottonmouth snakes. The first dog died, the second one lived. I won’t wade in most water during warm months here because of cottonmouths either. Let’s just say I am chicken…lol.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Kelly;
      That’s not chicken at all, that’s just being smart. Fortunately up here we don’t have cottonmouth snakes. I’m sorry about your dogs, geez, bitten at your house, that would make you very careful with small children. I know that some poisonous snakes give what’s called a dry bite, with little to no venom injected, not to kill prey, but mostly used as a defensive response. But still, I’d rather not get bitten at all. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Eunan says:

    Timber rattle snakes are also common around your neck of the woods I believe. I actually love snakes, or more so, their venom, ’cause I’m a scientist, see’
    Completely off topic for a fishing/flytying blog, but venoms target ion channels in our cells, to either over excite or inhibit their function resulting in abnormal activity of the cells, eg tetany in muscles, or rapid firing of nerve cells – a seizure. The action of the venom toxins can be assessed by measuring the electrical currents through the channels, or even single channels, in the presence and absence of the venoms to determine their effect.
    However, not all toxins in a venom, oh yes, there are quite a lot of different little molecule per species of venom, target channels. there are also some which cause blood coagulation, or prevent it, to name one other effect – I’ll spare you with just one.

    I guess the moral of the story is, and I think this could be what you were getting at.

    Don’t get ‘bit by snakes’ especially venomous ones!

    Lesson over, class dismissed!


    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Eunan;
      Thanks for your comment, moreover for your scientific input! I’m interested in snakes too. As kids my dad built what we called “the reptile cage.” It was 3 feet square, 3 feet high. We would catch snakes; milk, garter, and water, underneath old sections of corrugated tin roofing that had blown off the barn once and were replaced. The few old pieces of roofing, about 2 x 6 feet, were just left in the field where they fell. The heat from the sun on the tin would draw snakes like a magnet. My dad taught us to use a forked stick to pin then down to catch them. I was doing this while in 3rd – 4th grade.
      Dad made a small wooden carrier with a sliding door and a carry handle. I took a garter snake and a milk snake to school once, unannounced, just took them. The teacher was impressed and had me do a “show and tell” in front of the class. I remember having my milk snake out of the crate, with it coiled about 4 times around my wrist. Made the girls squeamish. 🙂
      We never had rattlers in that area of northern Lycoming – southern Tioga Counties. Mike snakes were my favorite, they would get very tame. Whereas a water snake on the other hand, was about like trying to make a pet out of a hornet.
      Thanks again for sharing your scientific knowledge.

  4. Eunan says:

    one other side note, that fly, second from right in the header photo, cinnamon, yellow, red and blue wing – what is it?
    i see it everyday, quite striking…I would like to tie it.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Another note, 😉 – that fly is my fishing version of a Silver Doctor…it’s actually brown duck / goose, not so light as to be called cinnamon, but not a real dark brown either. I skipped the teal / guinea fowl normally used. Use of duck and goose quill makes it pretty easy to tie. Or at least, easier than the usual Silver Doctor with turkey, teal, etc. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Bill says:

    There have been rumors about rattlesnakes around a certain section of one stream in our area, but the real danger for fisherfolk who don’t watch where they step or put their hands around here are copperheads. These rather shy snakes don’t get the press that rattlers do, but they pack a pretty good punch of toxins if you happen to get nailed by one, and they don’t advertise their presence the way their pit viper brethern do.

    • Don Bastian says:

      You’re right Bill. Copperheads are supposed to be in this area somewhat as well, though I heard they are more prevalent in southern Pennsylvania. Even rattlers don’t always buzz before they strike.They have been much maligned, and while fascinating reptiles, I can see why some folks don’t want them around. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Woolybugah says:

    Hi Don, Very familar with rattlers. In the 60’s I was stationed at Ft Hood ,TX. For a while there was a large Exercise going on and I was stationed off the post on rented farmland. Every day for 3 weeks I would drive a dirt farm road to my hqs. for meetings. EVERY DAY i would run over at least one rattler in my jeep. I used to hear that the only way to kill them was to “drag” your brakes as you went over them. I was dubious as to how well this worked and finally had to stop when I left my jeep at the “motor pool” for service one day. Upon exiting my meeting the Motor Sgt. was waiting for me with news that the mechanic who was going to service my jeep had found a rattler coiled up on the motor mount when he opened the hood. No more brake “dragging”.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi ‘Buggah!
      Well now, that’s a surprise! And those Texas rattlers are the big-boys, the diamondback version, bigger than our eastern timber rattlesnake. Nevertheless…thanks for sharing your story.
      Some folks are deathly fearful of snakes, to the degree of the Biblical reference where God places “enmity between thee and the Serpent” as he spoke to Eve. Curious why generally far more women than men are among the “deathly-fearful.” Not trying to start a discussion, just stating an old historical reference, perhaps mere coincidence. Thank you for your comment and sharing your reptile-tale!

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