Rattlesnakes are a danger to hikers, but the good news is that they can be avoided if you’re careful. The bad news is that there’s no way to know if one is nearby or has already bitten you—so it’s important to know what to do in either case.
It’s important to know how to avoid being bitten, but it’s also helpful to know what to do if you encounter a rattlesnake and get bitten.
If you’re bitten by a rattlesnake, it’s important to know what to do.
First, it’s helpful to understand the way that snakes behave in order to avoid being bitten.
Snakes are mostly nocturnal and spend most of their time inside burrows or under rocks or logs for protection from the sun during the day. They will also use these hiding places as ambush locations for prey when they come near at night.
A snake will often lie motionless in its hiding place until something walks past it and triggers its strike response, which causes them to leap from their spot and bite their prey with venomous fangs at lightning speed (often before the person even knows they were there).
If you see a snake during daylight hours, it is likely sleeping and should not be approached unless you have reason to believe otherwise—for instance if you see an open gash on its back where an injury has occurred recently or if it appears sickly in some way (unusual behavior like swaying or blinking excessively may also indicate illness).
Assess the situation
The first thing you should do after being bitten by a rattlesnake is assess the situation. If it’s possible to safely move away from where you were bitten, do so immediately. Look for the snake and try to remember if there were two puncture wounds on your skin: one at the site of impact and another in front of it (for example, if your upper arm was bitten, this would be an underarm bite). It’s important to note that no matter what type of snake bit you, a dry bite isn’t guaranteed—so pay attention to how much venom comes out during an attack. Also keep track of when the bite happened; this will help determine whether or not antivenom is necessary for treatment.
1. Look for the snake
Look for the snake. If you’re bitten by a rattlesnake, there’s a chance that it was still in the area when you were bitten. If you can see it, or if it ran off after biting you, look around carefully to see if there are any other snakes nearby.
If you can’t find your attacker’s body but think that it might still be nearby, don’t move until someone else comes along who can help locate the snake’s hiding place (and take care of whatever needs taking care of).
2. Remember, a snakebite requires two puncture wounds
The second puncture wound is the fang, which injects venom into a victim. It is important to note that rattlesnakes do not inject their venom with a single bite; instead, they use two small fangs (called the maxillary teeth) to create two holes in your skin. One of these holes contains the venom gland and its ducts, while the other contains poison sacs filled with foul-smelling fluid that can cause tissue destruction as well as help spread infection if left untreated.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to be bitten by both maxillary teeth for your body to react negatively—being bitten once on either side will make an adverse effect on your health.
3. A dry bite isn’t guaranteed
A dry bite means that the snake didn’t inject venom. This can be a good thing, as it is less dangerous than an envenomation. However, you should still seek medical attention just in case. A dry bite can still cause infection and swelling, as well as tissue damage from the fangs digging into your skin.
It’s important to know this because if you do experience a dry bite and go home thinking everything is fine, it’s possible that something will develop later on down the road (like an infection).
4. Pay attention to your body’s physical response to the bite
If you’re bitten by a rattlesnake, you may experience intense pain and swelling. These are important signs that the venom is working—but they may also be signs of shock. In fact, your body’s response to any kind of wound or injury can indicate whether or not you’re in shock. If you notice any of the following symptoms after being bitten by a rattlesnake:
- Feeling nauseous or dizzy
Then it’s highly likely that you’re in shock, which can cause serious medical complications if left untreated! If any of these symptoms appear while hiking near snakes, check your pulse right away (for example, if it’s under 60 beats per minute). If it is indeed lower than normal and/or there are other signs of an overall physical response to the bite (such as sweating), call 911 immediately and do not attempt to drive yourself anywhere unless absolutely necessary.
5. Check your watch or phone for the time of the bite
You should also check your watch or phone for the time of the bite. Knowing when you were bitten will help doctors determine how long it took for the venom to spread through your body, which can be helpful in treating you.
6. Remain calm and sit down immediately
These medical treatments may actually do more harm than good. Instead, stay calm, sit down and try to relax as much as possible. This will help your body use its own resources to fight off the venom.
7. Keep the bite below your heart level
- Keep the bite below your heart level. The venom will travel up the lymphatic system, so it’s important to keep the wound below your heart level.
- If you can’t get out of that area right away, try to find a sturdy object and lean on it while keeping the bite as low as possible on your body.
The venom will travel through your body at a rate of about two centimeters per hour if there’s no pressure on it (such as being strapped into a gurney). By putting pressure on the wound, you can slow down how quickly the venom spreads throughout your body by reducing its ability to move through lymph nodes into other parts of the body.
8. Remove any jewelry or loose clothing in case of swelling
- Remove any jewelry or loose clothing in case of swelling.
It is important to remove any jewelry and/or clothing that could get caught on something, as this could exacerbate the wound and cause more damage. Also, if you have a tight piece of clothing on (such as skinny jeans), it is best to remove them because they can restrict circulation and increase swelling.
9. Call 911 or have a hiking partner call 911 while you stay as still as possible till help arrives
- Call 911, or have a hiking partner call 911 while you stay as still as possible till help arrives.
- Sit down and try to remain calm. This is important because it can keep your heart rate low, which in turn will help keep the venom from spreading throughout your body. It is also important that you don’t remove any jewelry or loose clothing on the affected limb — this could cause further damage to the area around the bite and may increase how much venom enters your system.
- Rattlesnake are dangerous, but knowing what to do if you’re bit can help get you appropriate treatment.
- The best way to avoid getting bitten is to stay away from areas where rattlesnakes might reside, like woodpiles and rock piles. Rattlesnakes like to hide in places that offer shade and cover, so if you see one in the open, it is likely sick or injured. This is why you should never try to handle a rattlesnake on your own—these creatures are usually very defensive and will strike out at anyone who comes too close.
- If you do get bit by a rattlesnake while hiking, wrap a clean cloth around the bite wound, keep it below your heart level (to keep blood pressure down), and call for help immediately!
Recommendation: We recommend using good hiking boots that protect you from rattlesnakes.
This guide is intended to help hikers identify rattlesnake bites and know what to do if they get bitten. It can be a scary situation, but by knowing what to do in advance and remaining calm, you can greatly increase your chances of survival.