A while back, I was doing some research on poisonous snakes and came across references to silent rattlers.  I mentioned it here, and got lots of response, which burgeoned into a discussion on dealing with dangerous reptiles.

That in turn grew into this article, in the current issue of Backwoods Home magazine. Most Interesting Man

In my opinion, it was the broad experiential input and knowledge from those who contributed to the blog that really made the article.

This is at least the second time this has happened.  A few years ago, a discussion here burgeoned into a full-length article on hunting, shooting, and handling firearms in deep cold weather.

All y’all are a tremendous think tank and experience repository.  I don’t thank you often enough.



  1. Very good article Mas, as well as the reasoning as which snakes (two, or no legged) you can afford to let live, and which you can not.

    The problem comes to light, when you can’t be sure whether black and yellow (Kill a Fella), or yellow and black (Friend of Jack) applies to the snake facing you, and the results of being in error, are too fatal to be risked, so therefore the rule to “Kill em All, and let God Sort it Out” applies.

    The only Rattlers I have personally felt needed to be killed were usually “Sunning Themselves” on a rock, or in the middle of the animal trail (Sendero) that I was walking down, so I was about to put my foot directly down on them, and Yes, my next step landed a good 5 to 6 feet away. The fatal load was a .44 Spl., with cast lead Semi-Waddcutter 240 grain bullets, over 18.5 grains of 2400 power, fired from an early model .44 Mag. Ruger Blackhawk.

    Where I worked, mostly, in the US Border Patrol was in the San Luis, AZ East desert, from the POE, to about Monument 200, or so. The Signcutting Drag road, as well as most of the east desert, north for five, or more miles to, the Citrus Groves, was all the same quality, of hard, and soft sand, or Calichi, surfaced. Most of the snakes residing there were of the “Sidewinder” Rattlesnake variety, between 1 and 2 feet long.

    Now these “Sidewinders” were both hostile, and aggressive, when disturbed by humans, or vehicles. What made them more dangerous to PIs, and Alambristos, alike was their habit of coiling up, and then vibrating themselves down until they became almost completely buried under the sand. Later, when an alien came along, and normally stepped directly on top of the “Sidewinder”, the alien’s next step would be a good 6, to 8, feet away, and by the time I, or the next PI, came by there would be one angry, pissed off, Sidewinder waiting, ready to strike me, and/or the Scout’s tires in retaliation. Fortunately, “Sidewinder’s” only strike at “heat”, as I soon learned, after having them always hit directly on the middle of the 100W spotlight in my hand, but never striking my hand, only a couple of inches above the bulb.

    A fellow PI decided to see how many “Sidewinders” he could kill, by just finding, and following their snaking trail, across the drag road, and off into the desert, immediately after pulling the 9 tire drag along the drag road, at the start of the 4P to Mid-night shift. As I recall now, he was able to kill between 125, to 150 “Sidewinders”, on that one shift alone? Most all PIs’ carried either USBP issued .38 wadcutters for Service Revolvers, or similar rounds for their USBP approved 1911s, just for snake, and Coyote, hunting during their shifts too.

    It was pointed out to me, that if there is time, when shooting a snake, all you had to do to make a good head shot, was to approach as close as you felt safe to, then line up your sights, and the snake would obligingly line up his head with you gun barrel, and all you needed to do then, is squeeze off the round without upsetting the sight alignment, and off goes the snakes head.

  2. Iron sharpens iron. Teams accomplish what individuals cannot. We read books about famous men, but most great accomplishments are a result of teamwork. Neil Armstrong had a lot of people helping him take that first step on the moon, including the taxpayers. When I see a talented school student, it is usually because their parents are helping them, as they should.

  3. Not trying to be pedantic here, but the term for creatures which have a defense mechanism for injecting venom (not poison) into an attacker is venomous, not poisonous. Poisonous refers to creatures or plants that are dangerous to ingest/eat. You can eat a rattlesnake safely, because they aren’t poisonous, but they can inflict a lethal venomous bite in self-defense.

  4. Rarely disagree with you Mas. I must this time. There are no “good” snakes.

    Glad you won and the bad snake lost. I like to carry package of disposable ear plugs in my pocket with my 12′ of Paracord.

  5. Years ago I carried a six inch .357 magnum with .38 CCI shot shells when I camped in Arkansas and Texas, fortunately only heard bad stories of snakes there and never met one. I would have been much happier relying on a shot shell than a pistol bullet if I had encountered a venomous snake. My only encounter, oddly enuf up here where I live in MA, has been at the yearly game dinner near me where, once again last week, I had venison and rattlesnake ravioli. They always taste good to me.

  6. The article was excellent (as expected). I enjoyed seeing the contributions from the original blog included in the article.

  7. Arizona snakes can be very athletic. I know a short woman who says one jumped over her shoulder. It evidently flew too fast for a + venomous I.D. I have met four (surviving) victims of rattler bites. I asked friend Leroy what it was like to get bitten on the hands by Mojave rattlesnakes. He said simply that “It feels like you’re going to die.”

    On separate occasions, in different states, a Massasauga rattler and an Arizona coral snake (red on yellow) almost struck me on the hands, on days when the air was cool, but the ground was warm, and my guard was down. One friend has caught around 650 Arizona rattlers, spaced out over many years. He likes .410 bird shot in Taurus Judges for tight spots.

  8. One summer, we captured rattlesnakes in the Mojave desert and took them to UCLA Medical Center where they were milked to produce antivenin. We wore proper boots and carried appropriate tools for snagging and bagging the nasty little critters. Many years later, while I was watering the dog in the late evening, a copperhead chased my barefoot stupid ass into the garage where I eventually managed to kill it with a rake which, by the way, is a devise poorly suited to the application. Point of all this being, one should always attempt to match the tools he carries to the challenges he might expect to encounter. Ergo, when in snake country, the .410 wheel gun sounds like the perfect companion. A little less loud, just as deadly.

  9. Mas, you know about our rattlesnakes here in southern Colorado. When necessary I use a Ruger .45 Colt revolver with CCI SnakeShot which has always been effective. We leave the Bull snakes alone as they look a bit like rattlesnakes but no rattles and are nonvenomous. Problem is they can be aggressive, and will bite. King snakes reportedly will eat a rattlesnake which helps. As retired RN’s, Mare and I have saved our dogs that have had a :too close encounter” with a Western Diamondback or Prairie Rattler out in the yard by the rapid administration of Amoxicillin and Prednisone. Dog’s face will swell but airway remains open and after a few days for the swelling to go down the dog lives a long and normal life. Thanks again for the well written piece on such a useful topic.

  10. In the hills of Kentucky every farmer has some kind of utility gun for snakes and other pests. For years mine was an old H&R 12-bore with the barrel cut to 20 inches. I kept eight shells on the stock, two No. 6, two No. 4 Buck, two 00 Buck and two slugs. One load of No. 6 settled the hash of a timber rattler lying inches away from the kitchen steps at my mother’s house. I didn’t wait to see if he rattled or not.
    More recently though, pest control has fallen to my Taurus Judge. I know this is the gun people love to hate, but in my circumstances it works very well. I like CCI .45 Colt shotshells over .410 birdshot for snakes, and Federal 000 Buck for anything bigger. Between 10 feet and 10 yards Winchester Silvertip 225-grain rounds are also surprisingly accurate. Any farther than that and I’ll go get a rifle.

  11. I was reading through this and seeing the number of snakes being reported as being shot by folks this question came to mind:

    If you eliminate the things which people go out with the intention of shooting — for example, deer hunters go out with the intention of shooting deer — could snakes be the animate thing most often shot today by happenstance? There might have been a more rural time where families supplemented their diet by hunting and folks went out regularly to just find and shoot whatever they might come upon which could go into the pot, but it would seem to me that those days are probably largely past, perhaps leaving this as the most common animal just happened onto and shot.

    I’m not trying to lure y’all into making incautious admissions to grind some liberal point here (not, ahem, that I’m above that…). I’m genuinely curious about what you think.

  12. If that should happen, I would have to vote for Democratic Liberals, but not to eat, as they most likely would turn out to be venomous to all other human beings?

  13. Liberal Dave, in reading your post, I’m forced to make an assumption that by “shot today by happenstance”, you mean as “targets of opportunity”? If that’s your meaning, speaking for myself (and if I read correctly the ethics of most others who post here), we don’t just shoot animals for the heck of it. I shoot animals for food (if I won’t eat it I won’t kill it). There are a few exceptions. If it poses a threat to me, my family, my pets, or my livestock (which helps feed my family), I will eliminate that threat. I’ve killed numerous venomous rattlesnakes, all in my yard, in close proximity to our home, where my grandchildren play. I encounter non-venomous snakes more often, but allow them safe passage. I shoot skunks on sight. I once lost my entire flock of 25 laying hens in one night to a single skunk (each had a single bite wound to the neck, the skunk lapped the blood until the flow stopped, continued to the next victim, until the entire flock was killed, leaving the otherwise untouched carcasses). Lest you question this, I caught it in the act, as it was finishing up its last victim, which was also its last act on this earth. I don’t allow the species to have another chance at destroying one of my primary sources of protein, again.

    My point? I will not argue with you or anyone else about whether, as a human, I am an interloper in their habitat. I was born on this planet, just like all of God’s creatures. I am just taking up my share of the planet, breathing my share of the air, using my share of the resources, just like them. I will protect myself and those I am charged with protecting and providing for, just like them. When they cease to be threat to me and mine, I will cease to be a threat to them.

    I have no knowledge of how you live, urban, suburban, house, apartment, or rural. I would hazard a guess though that you don’t allow infestations of rats, mice, cockroaches, scorpions, or anything else that would pose a threat to the health or well-being of you or your family, to share your home. Neither will I.

    P.S.- In defenses of those who participate in “rattlesnake round-ups” or accept invitations to kill rattlesnakes on someones ranch, remember, these snakes pose a threat to the rancher and his source of income. This practice is not that different than an urban-dweller calling pest control, just cheaper.

  14. Dennis, while I may be a liberal in most ways I’m not an animal-rights advocate or a vegan or anything like that. I think that the PETA people are nuts and have no problem, for example, with regular (vs. no-kill) animal shelters or folks who wear fur or leather.

    I grew up in a small Texas town (and on the edge of that town at that) and had (and have) not the slightest problem with my rancher relatives who lived by the proposition (out in the country, not in town) that the first time you found your neighbor’s dogs on your property you called them to come and get them or rounded them up and took them to them, but you also told them, and meant it, that the next time you found the dogs on your property they’d be shot and buried with no further notice or warning. I’ve also attended, and enjoyed, rattlesnake roundups. I now live in the midst of a large urban environment and trap and turn over to the local animal shelter stray cats, dogs, possums, etc., if they become bothersome, where I know that most of them will be eventually euthanized. (If I catch a neighbor’s stray pet, I follow the rancher rules: the first time, I call them to come and get it, if there’s a second time it goes to the shelter with no further notice or warning.)

    And I wasn’t suggesting that the folks here at this blog just go out and shoot animals willy-nilly or that I have a problem with the number of snakes they shoot (or with hunting in general, at least the responsible if-you-kill-it-you-eat-it kind you support or even somewhat beyond that into responsible trophy hunting which takes conservation into account). Like I said, I have no liberal (or animal rightist) agenda with my question: it’s just a question.

    If I did have any possible objection to the number of snakes shot, it would be whether such a large harvest of poisonous snakes might cause other problems, such as an increase in the population of rats, field mice, and other small, troublesome rodents and varmints that the snakes ordinarily keep down. My ex-LEO/ex-Border Patrol relative who’s a rancher in West Texas, and an enthusiastic hunter and shooter tells me that he’s seen that happen — and cause problems — out there when coyotes are hunted over-aggressively. But that’s (a) a practical issue, not a philosophical one, for me and (b) doesn’t seem to have caused a problem in Sweetwater, Texas, where they’ve been running the nation’s largest rattlesnake roundup for decades. That’s a long way of saying that my one possible objection isn’t one in this case.

    Sometimes a cigar’s just a cigar and a question’s just a question.

  15. Liberal Dave, we have no major disagreements. Most of your posts seem to be intentionally provocative, appearing to have a desire to stir debate, which I appreciate. Debate precipitates a flow of opposing ideas and information, which in turn can educate everyone.
    I too, worry about the balance between predator and prey in the environment. Since I had a family of Road-Runners take up on my land, my snake population has dropped noticeably. Road Runners eat snakes, an overpopulation of a food source entices a species that depends on that food source to flourish. That original pair of Road Runners has produced 3 more mating pairs. As much as I enjoy watching these comical birds, I know that when the food supply dries up, they will move on to better pasture. That’s the way nature works. This year of mice over population becomes next year’s coyote over population. Short of massive human intrusion, our interference or impact on this process, is not that great.

  16. Dave (the liberal, non-Uncle one):

    Sounds like you had a right, and proper upbringing, so how can you now be a Liberal, who trusts, or supports, Obama, ObamaCare, and his pro-Third World, Socialist, Communist “Vision of Change” for America, as well as who (Us Working Stiffs) is going to pay for his “Vision”, over the next 100 years, assuming America is not Bankrupt, and sold off by our Foreign Lien holders, long before that?

  17. Momma rattlers produce multiple young in summer in Arizona, every year, often coinciding with summer rains. Stepping in a mess of young rattlers has happened. Encountering adult rattlesnakes in twos is often reported. Come to think of it, I knew a guy who walked into an area infested with adults and was struck twice before he emerged. Some truly urban areas don’t appear to have any rattlers left, but the rest of the state makes up for it. Millions, millions, and millions. Fully half a dozen varieties obtain where I live. You don’t walk around at night barefoot, or without a light. Otherwise you are perfectly safe, if you are observant (knock on wood). I believe in always using a walking stick in any kind of cover, in order to provoke rattling and retrograde movement. I wear some kind of boots. I stay out of heavy cover. Proper training snake-proofs dogs. Cats kill rattlers, but coyotes kill cats, not to mention other pets.

    My 7 1/2″ bbl .45 Colt Blackhawk tends to throw the #9 shot pattern to one side a bit, so I make sure I have 2 or 3 rounds of CCI shot ready. I would love to have one of the rare, old 3-inch .45 colt Ruger Vaqueros for handy carry, and for snakes. The much shorter barrel would help accuracy with the snake shot. .38 shot does possibly require too close proximity from a 2 1/4″ bbl, but I have used it with good luck. Rattlers must sometimes be captured or killed for the sake of children, pets, and livestock. Please don’t ask for miles of snake-proof fence.

  18. ANY snake I encounter is automatically DRT.
    My policy is simple: No debate, no discussion, no time for ID, no leniency.

    Call me a sissy, but I know big, tough guys that turn into 5 year old girls at the sight of a spider. Spiders don’t bother me, for me, it’s snakes.

    Oh, and my daughter has a killer tabby cat that evidently feels the same way, given the evidence found frequently near our back door.
    Good kitty!

  19. Paul Edwards, as a Patrol Inspector, you are a real old-timer. Not a lot of PIs around anymore. The area you worked, including the El Camino del Diablo (Devil’s Highway), was some desolate, empty terrain. You would be hard pressed to find 150 rattlesnakes along a drag road these days anywhere. Maybe a few rattlesnake dens in Arizona have those numbers, but the large numbers of rattlesnakes in the Sonoran Deserts seemed to have gone the way of PIs – to God knows where. Heard a fellow PI, Ab Taylor, died a few months back. He had a few snake stories to share as well. Take care Amigo.

  20. @Dennis: I agree. Too bad we’re not neighbors, I think we’d get along just fine and have some interesting discussions over the back yard fence.

    @Paul Edwards: The liberalism was part of my upbringing: both my parents were blue-collar liberals. Back when I was growing up, the Democrats held control of Texas and the Republicans were largely insignificant. As a result, the Democrats had both a liberal wing and a conservative wing and it wasn’t really all that uncommon to find liberals, or at least progressives, even in small towns. The Reagan Revolution (and the concomitant rise of the religious right) resulted in Texas flip-flopping to Republican domination. None of that is to say that I’m just liberal because my parents were liberal, but that certainly set me on the right track. I read a recent article which said that we liberals accomplish less than we might partly because we disagree with one another on the details so much and partly because we’re too nice: we’re not willing to engage in the name-calling, knee-jerk, content-empty defense of our opinions in the way that the right is willing to do. There’s something to that.

  21. Well, Thank you, Kelsey, but of course, when I was PI’ing, we thought people like AbTaylor, or Bill Hilden, our Yuma Station senior, were the “Old Patrol”.

    I met Ab, and was in awe of his SignCutting Skills, but never worked with him apart from his teaching one of our “Catch Up” Basic CPO Signcutting classes one summer, during the 1970s in San Diego.

    I will turn 80 this October, so guess I do clasify as being “Old” though.

    Funny you should mention the “Camio Del Diablo” though, as I did a week there, camped out with our Assistant Chief, Don Johnson, checking EWIs entering through the area, before they re-openned the Tacna, AZ station, which then asumed the duties for the Tinajas Altas (High Tanks) entry corridor, via this same area we camped out, and signcut in earlier, as well as Farm and Ranch check out as far as the “La Paloma Blanca” (White Wing Ranch) area.

  22. Paul Edwards, you mention “Bill Hilden.” That’s not the most common surname. Would that have been Elmer Hiilden, or one of his relatives?

  23. Yes, that was the Elmer “Bill” Hilden, the shooter you most likely are thinking about.

    We also had Jerry Jackson at the Yuma station as well. Bill Hilden, Jerry Jackson, Raul Macias, Frank Quilter, Bill Nail, and myself were all part of the Yuma USBP PPC team. We competed in matches in southern California, and Arizona, in the middle, to late, 1960s.

    Back then we shot on the old “Coke Bottle” targets, with the circle, and stripe “X” scoring rings, where 60 “Xs” was a perfect score. Bill, and Jerry usually shot near that perfect score, whereas I only managed 53, t0 55, “Xs”, but that was good enough to hold up our team four man score to win in most of these local area matches.

    Bill, Jerry, and Tommy Gaines, from El Centro Sector, were good enough to go on to the National Team, and Jerry won several National awards, as I recall.

  24. PS: It’s really testing my old memory to recall the old PPC course we used back then.

    The “perfect score” was 300 (60 rounds x 5 each), and it would be possible, but unlikely, to shoot a 300 without ever scoring a single “X”, as the targets had 5, 4, and 3 point scoring areas on them. A 300, with highest total number of “X”s won, and the total number of Circle “X”s breaking any ties.

    Matches were fired in two stages, starting with prone, at 60 yards, then going to left/right barricade at 50 yds., the same at 25 yds., finishing at 15 yds. with a standing off hand, all in 5 1/2 minutes (I think?).

    The last stage was left/right hands from 7 yds., not using the sights, in 25 seconds.

    Because the first stage could have shooters firing from different yardages, at the same time, only four shooters could be on the firing line at the same time.

  25. You were in the company of greats, Paul.

    IIRC, Hilden also won national championships. Word was that he had been in a bunch of gunfights and done equally well on the “two-way range.” Anything about that you can share?

  26. Well, by the time Bill Hilden was the Yuma Station Senior, he wasn’t involved in any shooting altercations, but when I was first converting from Navy M1911 hardball bullseye shooting to the USBP PPC courses, I had obtained a 6″ barreled S&W .38 Spl. to use, but didn’t have a holster for it.

    So Bill gave me one of his, a Safiland dropped rig, with a sight track, new tech. back then, that I still have. This was before quick loaders too, so we reloaded from 24 round cartridge loops, two at a time, which worked very well, once you got he hang of doing it.

    The only violent type incident I can recall was one night, about 1967, Bill Nail was working the 4P to Midnight shift, out at the Wier just north of the POE at Andrade, California. This was a stationary post, where after pulling a drag over several All American canal crossings, and setting up a couple of “Electronic Devices” (Flashlights hitched up to trip cords), you turned on a tube type radio in a box, on a small hill, above the road from the POE, and waited for any EWIs to cross, tripping the devices, so you could chase, and apprehend them.

    This night, Bill had just finished setting up, and parked his vehicle at the radio box, but hadn’t turned it on yet, when two Mexicans came up to him, sticking a pistol in his face and disarming him. They got over by the lip of the All American canal, and were preparing to handcuff to the railing, when Bill decided he couldn’t allow them to immobilize him, so he grabbed the railing behind him, and did a back flip, over the railing, and dropped 20 feet, or so, into the fast flowing canal, and was swept away, before they could shoot at him.

    Bill manged to finally climb out of the canal, and come back to his vehicle, which the Mexican’s had disabled. So he unlocked, and used the stationary radio to call Yuma Sector, and report what had transpired. Needless to say, every PI on duty, including myself, and several more called in, descended on Andrade, and tracked those Mexicans over the Colorado river hills, and into the Bard Valley farming area, where they were cornered, and apprehended, about dawn, almost to Winterheaven, California.

    Turns out they both had long criminal records, and they were eventually convicted, and sentenced to something like 10 to 15 years. Last I heard, Bill Nail left left the Border Patrol, when to College, and became a lawyer somewhere in the LA area.

    This also about the same time that Newton and Azrak were kidnapped, and killed, in the El Centro Sector too.

  27. Paul,

    Those are some fantastic stories!! I linked up with one of your compatriots a while back – PI Tommy Gaines. Tommy, as you know, was a national pistol champion, trained under Bill Jordan, and saw some interesting times as well. Tommy lives in the San Diego area and is a treasure. You guys ought to get together and put a pen to some of these stories as there is quite an interest in the old style. Did you ever get up to Blythe and work the interior? Some of those old interior stations were rich in “incidents’ as well. Between you and Masaad, keep the stories coming!!!!

  28. Glad to hear that Tom Gaines is still alive, and kicking.
    So many of us old school guys are now being reported in the FORBPO “Via Con Dios” column now a days.
    Will have to take putting our old stories/Tales under advisement, my days are now mostly going to Doctors, Hospitals, and the like, trying to fix the excesses of my youth.
    Thanks anyway,


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