Cathy and I recently hiked on the Hickory Creek Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness, and we documented the trip and prepared a trip video that can be seen here.
It was a very relaxing trip for the most part. The details are in the video, so if you’re interested in our hike or the area check it out. However there was one really exciting adventure that took place that I feel needs a little more background and information. If you’ve seen the video, you already know, but for those who haven’t (like the title of this blog post implies), I caught a rattlesnake.
Here’s the situation: We had hiked in to our destination, enjoyed a nice lunch and a really nice nap in our hammocks, and then started hiking back out. One the way back out, along the Conasauga River, we encountered a troop of Boy Scouts that had set up in an area alongside the trail. As we were passing, some of the young men warned us of a rattlesnake on the other side of the trail. I was immediately interested, because it had been many (30ish) years since I have seen a rattlesnake in the wild, and never in my home state of GA. They showed us where a large timber rattler was coiled up next to a tree across the trail from their chosen campsite.
At this point I was thinking “Okay, I’ll just take a couple of pictures and then leave it alone”, thinking that I didn’t want to do anything else with all of the Scouters around. But then they told me that they were breaking down camp and moving because of the snake.
Here I must take the opportunity to commend the troop, because most people would simply kill the snake (no matter what kind it was) and carry on. I hate to hear of people doing that. The snakes live out there in the wilds and we are just visitors, and in my opinion it isn’t acceptable to just kill them in their homes because they inconvenience us, or because we are frightened of them. That said, with a group of young men’s lives in the balance, if the troop leaders had decided to kill the snake I could almost call that “justifiable snake-icide”. Kudos to their decision to relocate their camp instead!
Here also I will insert my thoughts and prior experience with snakes in general and venomous snakes in particular. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with snakes. As a young child I often caught snakes and kept them as pets. I would spend hours out in the woods and fields looking for them. In all those searches I never came across a venomous snake (that I positively identified). This fascination continued as I grew into adulthood and joined the USMC.
While serving in Thailand I had a unique opportunity to actually catch a cobra by hand. The Thai Royal Marines were giving us a demonstration on how to handle cobras, and asked for volunteers. No one was quick to jump in, and since I was experienced in handling snakes I thought “How hard can it be?” and raised my hand. They demonstrated the technique and I copied it with success.
Fast forward to the present: In the recent past I have caught two different copperhead snakes (pit vipers, related to rattlesnakes). One was while riding with my nephew on the Silver Comet Trail. We rode by the snake crossing the trail so I stopped and moved him off to prevent his being run over, or worse someone missing seeing him and getting bitten in the process. Because of my experience catching snakes all my life, and recent success handling the copperheads, I felt confident I could catch the rattler. Not only that, as weird as this may sound, I REALLY wanted to.
Seizing the opportunity, I asked the troop if instead of breaking down and moving their camp, they would prefer that I catch and relocate the snake. All I needed to hear was one “yes” and I was on it. The rattler was coiled up next to a tree, minding his own business, and even when I approached closely he wasn’t yet rattling or threatening in any way. Using his stillness to my advantage, I slowly moved the end of my hiking staff close and pinned his head with it. After that it was a simple matter of picking him up by the neck, close to his head where he couldn’t turn and bite me.
I held him there for a minute or two letting the scouts take a good look at him, while also admonishing them not to emulate my foolish actions and explaining that I have had a lot of past experience handling snakes. Then I carried the snake down and off the trail about a quarter of a mile or so away and let him go.
So, to answer the question posed above… am I crazy? I’ll leave that to the reader to decide. (If you say yes, most people agree haha!) I must say though, that it was a very exciting adventure and I will remember it fondly for a long time!