A lot of the appeal of hunting is the peace and quiet it affords us as we wait patiently for our quarry. That is something many of us prefer to face undisturbed and as a result, we go it alone during all or part of the season. The seclusion we prefer can be interrupted by many things, however, with one of the most unwelcome visitors being snakes.
Though snakes tend to den up during the cold months during whitetail season in Missouri, it is not impossible to stumble across one. After all, one of the places they could choose to seek winter shelter could be in or around your camp. You also must factor in that there are going to be times during the warm weather months when you are in the woods. It could be that you are scouting the area for evidence of deer, mounting game cameras, working on your feed plot, or tending to your shooting stand, but whatever the case may be, a snake could be waiting right around the next bend.
When it comes to sharing the wilderness with snakes, knowledge is your ally. Being able to recognize different types of snakes will help you to quickly figure out whether the serpent at your feet is a friend or foe. Additionally, knowing what kind of snake it is will help you to determine whether or not a snake is protected and therefore illegal to kill. Though exception is made in the defense of oneself against a venomous snake, there are many native snake species that are considered protected under the Wildlife Code of Missouri.
Although it is not always possible to identify a specific species of snake especially as you are side-stepping to avoid it on a narrow trail, it is good to know the traits of venomous snakes versus nonvenomous. Venomous snakes in Missouri bear the traits of what are known as pit vipers, indicative of the family of snakes in which they are classified. They will have a single row of scales along their body on the underside of their tail, fangs, vertical slits for pupils, and the trademark pit on each side of the head for which pit vipers are known. Nonvenomous snakes have round pupils and a double row of scales on the underside of the tail. Many of these traits only prove useful in identification if you get extremely close, however, so it is best to stay away if you are unable to recognize a species from a distance without absolute certainty.
Native venomous snakes in Missouri include:
- Massasauga rattlesnake
- Timber rattlesnake
- Western pygmy rattlesnake
Nonvenomous snakes in Missouri include but are not limited to:
- Broad-Banded Watersnake
- Eastern Coachwhip
- Eastern Gartersnake
- Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake
- Graham's Crayfish Snake
- Great Plains Ratsnake
- Northern Scarletsnake
- Speckled Kingsnake
- Western Foxsnake
It is important to remember as well that some snakes will behave aggressively even if they are not actually venomous. When it comes to snakes such as this, it is best to heed their warning and continue on your way. However, some of the snakes that warn of their presence are very much a threat to your health and well-being, such as rattlesnakes which are known to announce themselves before issuing a bite. Since the venomous snakes in Missouri are members of the pit viper family, they have the ability to detect infrared radiation. In other words, they can see your body's heat signature making it easy to hit a mark on target should they choose to issue a bite.
Although avoiding snakes is best, sometimes accidents do happen and people are bitten. When this happens, it is necessary to try to recall as many details about the snake's appearance as possible. Signs of a bite include puncture marks, redness, swelling, pain, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, and numbness. Bites from venomous snakes require immediate attention or death is possible. If bitten, seek medical aid as soon as possible and remain calm to slow the spread of venom. Keep in mind that even a bite from a nonvenomous snake will likely require medical care due to the bacteria present in the mouth of the snake and the possibility of snake teeth remaining lodged in your flesh.
In order to protect yourself from snake bites while hunting or simply enjoying time spent in the woods, outfit yourself with clothing that is resistant to a snake bite. This includes tall boots and tough, durable pants that a bite cannot easily penetrate. Always inform someone of where you're going and when you will return so if you fall victim to a bite and cannot make it back on your own, help can be summoned.
Have you encountered any of Missouri's venomous snakes while hunting or preparing for hunting season? Did you note anything in particular about the snake's location or behavior? Tell us about it in the comments!