There are two known species of venomous snakes at Fort Royale Farm, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. While copperheads are widely considered the more aggressive of the two, the timber rattlesnake is far more common, as the mountain is considered a special breeding ground for the species. Copperheads are more likely to be found near water and in wood piles, where it is slightly humid or moist. Timbers prefer rockier terrain, but will travel wider distances and generally are just as likely to be under a pile of logs as sunning on rocky outcroppings.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ENCOUNTER A RATTLER
If you hear a rattle, STOP IN PLACE. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a rattle is not a precursor to a strike – it is a warning to keep you from forcing them to strike. Likewise, the majority of the time, a snake is only startled after you have passed it by. If you back up, you may well be moving toward the agitated serpent rather than away from it.
Once you have frozen in place, use only your head to glance around and behind you until you locate the source of the sound. Stay calm, and avoid raising your voice unless there are others near you that should be warned away. If you have friends nearby, but not within the snake’s strike radius, use them to get an accurate location on the rattler if you cannot spot it.
Once you see the snake, assess how close you are. A timber rattlesnake strike can cover a distance of between about one third to one half the snake’s length. Thus, as a rule of thumb, a three foot (1 meter) snake has about an eighteen inch (0.5 meter) strike radius. That said, a strike moves faster than the human eye, so best to overestimate their strike distance than to be proven wrong. You cannot move fast enough to avoid their bite if they are intent upon striking.
If you are within the snake’s strike radius, stay calm and wait a few moments for the snake’s initial reaction to calm. If it is a copperhead, it will often lower its head back to its coils or the ground, while a timber will slowly cease to shake its rattle. It is up to you whether you want to wait a bit longer to see if the snake leaves on its own, or whether you wish to take a slow but firm step in the direction most away from the snake. Venomous snakes are not predatory; they will not follow or hunt you once the threat to them has abated. Leaning your upper body away from the snake before taking that step will often reinforce the visual sense that you are retreating.
Once you are a safe distance from the venomous snake but still within eyeshot, have a bystander fetch a ranger, who can call our on-call snake handler to the site for gentle removal of the animal. We ask that you please remain near the site until the handler arrives, as you will have the best and most accurate information about the snake’s size, species, and temperament, all of which is crucial for the safety of our handler (who is just another volunteer!)
- Stay calm, and sit down once safe to do so.
- Keep the bite below your heart
- If you are wearing restrictive jewelry or clothing near the bite, such as bracelets or rings, remove them immediately before swelling potentially cuts off circulation
- Have someone immediately and with no delay call code “FANG” on the nearest radio [see additional sheet in this packet for radio locations] and give your exact location, while someone else immediately and with no delay phones 911 and informs EMTs of the species of snake (if known), size, and time of the bite, as well as the address of the event. This is of paramount importance: although the likelihood of a bite is astronomically low, if bitten, an ambulance must immediately be called. There is no treatment for a potentially lethal bite, except antivenom, which only the ambulance can bring.
- Do NOT try to get a better look at the snake or approach it in any way; a snake that has already struck is far more likely to strike a second time. If someone can get a photo of the snake from a safe distance, that is fine, but there is no reason to pursue the snake if it slithers away.
- A golf cart will arrive in minutes to pick up the bitten individual and take them down the mountain to meet the ambulance at the outer road to save time
- If you are on any stimulants or blood thinners (caffeine, coke[acola], alcohol), inform the medics both on the phone, as well as to the Code Fang responders. We understand the urge to protect a participant who may be on questionable substances, however these intoxicants drastically alter the necessary life-saving protocol for an individual. Their life is not worth gambling, particularly as a blood test at the hospital will reveal the truth regardless.
- DO NOT tourniquet the wound; DO NOT try and suck out the venom. Do NOT drink any alcohol or caffeine as you wait. All of these are myths, and all make the situation worse rather than better
- And remember, in the vast majority of cases, snakes don’t inject enough venom for the bite to be fatal. They are warning you off – you are too large to be their prey. That said, the safety and survival of the victim depends on quick, decisive action.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- Rattlesnakes are most nocturnal during summer months. That means when our eyesight is worst, they might be out and about. Carry your headlamp/flashlight with you at all times, even if you think you can see the trail. That branch may not be a branch.
- Only gather firewood during the day. If you run out at night, ask a neighboring camp if you can borrow some of their logs. Don’t simply keep a new pile of logs at your camp site, as this may attract a rattler. Instead, use a pallet or cart to create a pile off the ground, reducing likelihood that the snake is pinched or startled by shifting logs
- If you plan on having a pile of wood in camp, bring LED or solar lights to point at the pile. This will discourage snakes from hanging around once people start arriving, and makes it more likely that they hightail it out of the Summerisle boundaries entirely until after we leave
- The greatest danger will be Tuesday through Friday, during setup, when snakes attempt to leave the area but get penned in by the camps springing up around them. Be mindful and attentive.