I remember it like it was yesterday – I was walking with my father through the tall grass near the Upper Iowa River. We were carrying a canoe towards the river for an afternoon of father and son bonding.
The sound was like nothing I had ever heard before, but I instinctively and immediately knew exactly what it was – the warning of an angry rattlesnake.
My dad quietly, but sternly, told me to not move. Perfect advice, since I don’t think I could have taken a step even if I wanted to. After waiting for several hours (probably only a couple of minutes) my father had us slowly set the canoe down and step inside. We waited in there for another few minutes while my dad used a large stick to probe the nearby grass.
Once he was satisfied the snake had left the area, we carefully backtracked towards our cabin. We decided to skip canoeing for the day and instead drove into town to eat lunch and tell everyone within earshot about our day’s adventure.
We got lucky that day, but what if things had turned out differently? What if one of us had been bitten? What should we have done?
To get the answer, we turned to one of our favorite sites – Trails.com. They have advice for two scenarios – when you can summon help and when you can’t. We suggest reading the entire article, but here’s what they recommend in the situation we found ourselves in many years ago:
Step 1 – Understand the risk of a rattlesnake encounter. Hiking or camping around boulders, tall grass, leaf piles or logs and spending time in deserts, prairies, forests, mountains and even on beaches make it possible you will come across one or more rattlesnakes. There is no working rattlesnake repellent on the market, and the animal may strike and deliver a bite during the day as well as the night.
Step 2 – Remain calm and orient yourself. Have a map of the area on your person at all times and pinpoint your location. Staying calm may slow the spread of snake venom in your body.
Step 3 – Call for help. Contact emergency medical personnel by cell or satellite phone right away. Give the operator your map coordinates and mention significant nature markers you can see from your location. This makes it easier for rescuers to find you. Do not move away from your location once first responders confirm that they are en route to you.
Step 4 – Clean the wound and wait for help to arrive. Wash the bite area gently with soap and water, cover it with a sterile dressing from a first-aid kit and remain seated until help arrives. Lower the bitten limb so that it is not at or above heart level.
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