Yep, with warmer weather comes increased occurrences of snake encounters. Here in California, that’s rattlesnakes! Caution, if you have a phobia about snakes, I suggest you don’t have the mental faculty to deal with the situation, this could lead to a critical mistake on your part, so leave it to someone else! Otherwise I would recommend leaving the ones you see on the trail alone and only kill the ones in campgrounds.
One of the first lessons you should learn on the trail is “Pan-And-Scan”. Keep your eyes moving/searching. But don’t just look, understand what you’re seeing and process its meaning. This is obviously important on the trail because you need to watch your step, but the act of pan-and-scan MUST continue when you get to your campground/camp site!
Rattlesnakes like to bask in the sun, but they don’t like to go far from their hole. This is often under the campground outhouse! If you go to use the [stinky] toilet, and you see a hole or two dug under the edge of the concrete slab, you should presume a rattlesnake and watch that area every time you want to relieve yourself!!
If you see a rattlesnake within a campground, especially in the backcountry, get a long, heavy stick (5 or 6 feet is fine), then staying as far away as possible, with solid footing, strike the snake (targeting the head, but any hit will do). Do this until you’re sure the snake is dead and cannot strike (CAUTION: Rattlesnakes do NOT have to be “coiled” to strike, that’s a myth!)
When the snake is dead, pin the neck, just behind the head, to the ground with the end of your stick. When you’re sure you have it securely pinned, keep it pinned, and step on the head with your boot. With your boot on the head, remove your stick, and use your knife to separate the head (the poison sacks are in the head, so cutting about an inch below the head is plenty safe). With the head separated, either kick the head into its hole, or dig a hole and bury it (CAUTION: People can still be bit by the still active bite reflex!) With the snake head safely discarded, it’s time to EAT!
Rattlesnake meat not only tastes like chicken (at first), it cooks the same. It dries out quickly over a fire, so you need to be careful not to overcook it, but ALL wild meat should be cooked thoroughly (no red blood!) The problem is, Rattlesnake is very boney, so you may find yourself either pulling a lot of bones out of your mouth, or fileting a lot of bones out before serving. So I would suggest either enlisting some help to speed up the processing, or chop it in half and bag it so it doesn’t go bad while you work with the rest.
This is an EASY way to cook rattlesnake and you don’t have to worry about overcooking! Chop the snake into smallish pieces and drop into your cooking pot. Then fill the pot with water and place over fire. After at least 5 to 10 minutes, the snake will be cooked, but cook as long as you want. The broth you get is delicious, but add seasonings to your taste, I use a “menudo mix.” You can serve the snake parts with the broth, just remember the meat is boney!
RATTLESNAKE ON RICE
This is more work! While white rice is cooking, cook the rattlesnake (boiling or baking) lightly, then separate the meat from the bones. For this, using the middle of the snake is best because the pieces of meat are larger including on either side of the spine. Once that’s done, serve over rice and top with a hot or spicy sauce/seasoning (it’s rattlesnake, it’s GOTTA have a bite!)
Cleaning/processing rattlers is VERY easy! (NOTE: Processing ALL kills should be done AWAY from camp!!) I have a Leatherman Titanium, on that model, is a serrated blade, on the end of that blade is what looks like a hook.
Leatherman calls it a "utility cutting hook". I call it a "gut hook" because it's perfect for doing just that! Since I already cut its head off, I didn't have to make an incision to insert the hook, but either way, you just put the hook in at the top and draw it down. The carcass opens like a zipper!! The guts just fall out, so there's no other cutting. Then all you do is pull the skin off like a sock.
BTW, another myth is that you can tell the age of the rattler by the number of rattles in the tail. WRONG! While it's true rattlers add a pair of rattles to their tail every time they shed their skin, they may shed their skin two or thee times a year. Also, those rattles sometimes break off.