What to do if Snake Bitten

Snakes pretty well terrify most people, perhaps due to ignorance of their benefits, anything that crawls must be bad, or the Biblical portraying of the snake representing the devil. I’m not a fan of them either, although my wife loves them, worry about her sometimes.

The facts are snakes have been on earth longer than man, and as man continues encroaching on their natural environment face to face meetings will increase. As with 98% of nature’s creatures a snake will try to avoid conflict with humans, and I’d venture to say 99.9% of humans will do the same with a snake. However, situations do unfortunately present themselves that don’t allow for retreat by either party and conflict results.

We’re not going to be discussing any snake not native to North America, which really narrows the field thank goodness. Obviously any snake can bite, but other than the pain and the revulsion of being bitten, the only danger is from poisonous snakes, of which there are four in the United States.

There is a catch with the four (4) number. There are only four species of poisonous snakes, but I like to say they are broken down into sub-species. Meaning? Although a rattlesnake is one of the four, not all rattlesnakes are identical in appearance. Therefore, memorizing what a timber rattlesnake looks like won’t guarantee a Northern Pacific rattlesnake will activate the same emergency warning in the brain.

I mention this for people who are strict by the book, it looks like this, type personalities. Nothing in nature is 100% the same all the time. For instance, I can make a factual statement that poisonous snakes in the U.S. are vipers, therefore have a Triangular shaped head, which is created by the poison glands of the snake is at the back of the head, thus the triangle shape. However, the coral snake does not have a triangular head, it’s round and still deadly.

What I’m trying to stress here is, if you are not 100% sure what type of snake you’re dealing with … give it a wide berth. Discretion is the better part of valor when dealing with a possible deadly adversary, who will run away (that didn’t sound right) if given an avenue of escape.

Simple identification:


Rattle Snake

Rattle snakes rattle, thus the name, the end of its tail.

Water Moccasins have a white, cottony lining in their mouth. AKA as cotton mouth snakes. Trouble is to see that the snake is either threatening or performing a bite.

Copperhead snakes have a copper-colored head and reddish brown bodies with dark bands.

Coral Snakes have red, yellow and black rings along the entire length of their body. Their heads are round, not triangular … the pupils are round, not slit.


Coral Snake

Shit Happens:

No matter how skilled, knowledgeable, careful or prepared you are … shit still has a way of happening, and snake bites will occur. Fact of life. So let’s learn what and what not to do if snake bitten.

Take solace that 70% of all snakebites are by nonvenomous snakes resulting in stepping on it, surprising it or playing with it. Perhaps incredibly to a novice, only 50% of bites by venomous species are actually poisonous. They are called dry bites where the snake doesn’t inject poison. Poison is the only method of a snake being able to capture prey and without eating, the snake naturally dies. So the snake is a little bit conservative on when it injects poison, and you’re too big to eat, therefore a painful bite may suffice in giving the snake time to escape. These are statistical facts, but don’t bet your life on it. Take action if bitten.

What’s the Purpose of Emergency First Aid

In any type of situation it’s imperative to know what you are attempting to address. A nose bleed requires entirely different treatment than a broken leg, although both are accidents and require medical attention. The aim of first aid treatment for a snake bite is to retard (slow down) the absorption of the venom until transportation to the proper medical facility or proper medical treatment can be achieved.

Let’s first dispel ingrained first aid myths, from TV and movies, in order to not make the situation worse.

Do not cut the wound open and try to suck the venom out. Snake bite kits which included a small razor blade, an elastic rubber band tourniquet and a suction devise was a common survivalist tool until it was medically proven to do more harm than good.

Do not apply a tourniquet as this does nothing but starve tissue of blood and oxygen and does nothing to stop the spread of venom.

Do not apply ice to the bite area.

Do not drink any liquids, especially alcohol or any drink containing caffeine, like coffee or soda. This will only increase the heart rate … speeding the spread of venom.

Do not attempt to clean or bandage the area. It’s been proven this only lends to increase the chances of infection.


Water Moccasin

Now … What to do:

Do remain calm. That probably sounds like the dumbest thing you ever heard. “I’ve just been bitten by a rattlesnake and I’m dying!” Understandable, but any fidgeting, panting, nervousness due to stress, accelerates the heart rate, speeding blood through the system and with it … the venom.

Do remove jewelry, wedding ring, or any other tight fitting clothing from the bitten area because it will swell. You want the doctor concentrating on medical treatment, not how to cut off a ring.

Do position the bite area below the heart. If bitten on the hand, keep arm down, ankle, sit up, etc.

Do call or send someone for medical help. Fast medical treatment is the best way to insure survival. Unless there is no other alternative, alone and no cell phone, stay put. Walking to the truck will only increase venom spread. Better to wait for them to come to you.

Do attempt to remember the specifics of the snake. Color, length, stripped, thickness, anything that will help the medics identify which snake bit you, therefore determining which type of anti-venom to introduce. Do not attempt to capture or kill the snake. Take a picture if possible.

Let’s assume your partner did kill the snake. (sweet revenge) Do not handle it. Let it lie where it is for a professional to dispose of and it’s a 100% method of proper identification. A snake can bite and envenom-ate long after it is dead. The scene in the movie where the cowboy cuts the head off the snake and buries it … that’s reality.

Symptoms of a Poisonous Snake Bite

Fear is created as a natural defense mechanism designed to help avoid injury. There are many reasons for fear, but the fear of the unknown can be lessened by knowing what to expect. Let’s look at the symptoms and what to expect if snake bitten.

Number one, which may sound silly but… there will be two puncture marks, can appear as slits, pin sized holes, etc. This will verify you were actually bitten.

You will experience swelling and redness around the wound, which will expand in size.

There will be pain, it could be a varying degree from mild to severe.

You may experience difficulty in breathing, vomiting and/or severe nausea.

Blurred vision, numbness in the face is common.

Uncontrolled sweating and/or salivating.

These are general symptoms one may feel, but there are some species’ specific symptoms.

Rattlesnake Bite: Symptoms are nearly immediate and include:

Severe pain in the bite area.

Drooping eyelids

Low blood pressure

Thirst, an odd taste in the mouth and extreme tiredness or weakness in the muscles.


Copper Head

Water Moccasin: shares many symptoms nearly identical to a copperhead.

Immediate pain.

Change in skin color in the affected area.

Shock, which can be deadly on its own.

Low blood pressure & weakness

Copperhead: Symptoms are nearly identical to water moccasin

Coral snake Bite: Symptoms from a coral snake bite differ from the other snakes. They include:

Pain in the area of the bite is not usually immediate and may take several hours to begin experiencing it.


Drooping Eyelids

Change in skin color

Stomach Pain

Difficulty in swallowing

Severe Headache



Obviously these are not desirable experiences, but you will know what’s happening if these symptoms develop.

Remember that you’ve got nothing to lose by contacting emergency services, but if you brush it off and fail to make the phone call, it could cost you your life.

Survival MasterplanA rogue survivalist blows the whistle on the FATAL flaws of conventional prepping

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