With eleven species of rattlesnakes calling our state home, chances are you’ll find yourself face-to-fang sooner or later. Most common to West Texas, rattlers like to den up in dry, rocky crevices, but you’ll also find them slithering through grass or slumbering under woodpiles. “Essentially, if you’re in West Texas, don’t sit down until you’ve checked the ground within a three-foot radius,” says Tom Henderson, a former president of the Sweetwater Jaycees, the organization that hosts the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Round-Up every year. Why wrangle? The catch-and-release method is more humane than a hoe to the head. (Plus, it makes you look like a badass.)
According to the American International Rattlesnake Museum, in New Mexico, about eight thousand bites from venomous snakes are reported in the U.S. each year. But don’t say your Hail Marys just yet: Less than one percent result in death. A rattlesnake will usually warn you before it strikes with a low-pitched and unmistakable rattling. (The rattle forms from shed skin and can be very loud—up to 80 decibels.) It also controls the amount of venom it releases, so nearly half of all first bites are dry. But beware: The more threatened a snake feels, the more poison it injects. Young rattlesnakes are considered the most deadly, as they have not mastered their venom control.
Henderson is adamant that you wear the proper uniform: leather boots (hard to penetrate) and long pants (preferably jeans). Professional snake handlers use a pinning hook, a metal rod with a U-shaped end, but amateurs should employ snake tongs, which consist of a long bar with a handle and a set of jaws on one end. (Both devices are about three feet long, to keep the reptile at a safe distance.) Depending on the snake’s length (they range from about 48 to 60 inches), use the tongs to grip it around its middle or a third of the way down from its head—this will limit striking range. Note where the snake’s mouth is, grab its tail above the rattle, and carefully guide it into a large bucket, clamping down the lid.
If you’re going to dispatch the poisonous thing, waste not, want not: Have a tanner fashion the skin into a chic accessory, indulge in the delicacy of chicken-fried rattlesnake, or hire a taxidermist to memorialize the snake’s last tango. But don’t let negative mythology dictate your actions: Snakes, after all, control rodent populations and rodent-borne diseases, so let your bleeding heart beat and release it into the wild. The greatest memento will be the heroic tale of your battle with the beast.