A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947

On snake patrol

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I grew up right beside a pond and a lake. It made life great as a youngster. It also created some interesting times.

Before I dive deep into this scene, it must be noted that 50 years ago, times were a little different and a little more relaxed. When I was but a wee toddler, I am guessing around 3 or 4 years of age, I walked to the backside of the pond beside the house. There were several pines located there, and it was part of a small cow pasture we had.

My parents were outside near the house doing yardwork I am guessing, as my memory shows me the image of them outside, but that is it. As I neared one of the pine trees, I stepped on something that didn’t feel like a fallen branch. It was strong but not stiff, and wriggled slightly from the weight of my small human frame.

A head popped up and bowed back, with a quick-darting tongue. I froze in terror. The image is pretty vivid in my head, still to this day. There were intermingling patterns of tan and bronze along its body. I tried to scream but there was no voice, no air, just me standing there with my mouth agape and not moving.

Somehow, some way, our German shepherd knew something was wrong. He darted from where my parents were, around the bank of the pond and immediately grabbed the snake behind the neck, dispatching the life from the serpent while shaking it violently in his canine jaws.

One of the advantages of having encounters such as this throughout childhood and my teenage years was I learned to not be startled and react uncontrollably to a situation. Many times I have nearly stepped on a snake, come up on one in full recoil, or spotted one entirely too close without going into an induced panic. That allowed me to ably separate myself from the situation, without getting bitten or struck at.

I tell of this because we are in that time. The weather is hot, there is lots of foliage and high grasses, and while that brings out mosquitoes, it also has our cold-blooded creatures on the move searching for both food and cover.

North Carolina ranks first in the country in snake bites. 

Wake County, with all of the urban development and human population, ranks first in the state in snake bites. 

There are six venomous snakes in our area; three species of rattlesnake, the water moccasin, the copperhead and the coral snake. Several can be life- threatening, and only the moccasin is considered to be highly aggressive.

With our state ranking as the top, certain precautions should be taken when in the woods or around the home.

Always be on high alert near water, especially where grasses and shrubs may line the shoreline. As one can guess, the most aggressive of the venomous snakes, the water moccasin (or cottonmouth as it is also called) lives near water.

If working in the yard around natural areas that contain shrubs, grasses and/or mulch, stay on alert as well. Snakes like these places as it provides cover for them to both rest and wait for unsuspecting prey. Also pay attention to areas where there may be tires, machinery and tools, and other manmade items that may sit for extended periods of time.

And lastly, when hiking, exploring, or camping in wooded areas keep attention to the ground in front of you. Snakes blend in well with pine needles, leaves and fallen branches. You do not want to test your own panic reflex if you don’t have to.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.