The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.

14 thoughts on “The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

  1. Not to minimize the loss of a chicken’s life, but chickens are cheap; snakebites are expensive, even if not fatal.

    If chickens are threatened, they usually make a hell of a racket.

    Stay safe and fly well.

    • I didn’t hear any sound at all, so I’m not 100% convinced that the snake killed it. Of course, it could have happened yesterday while I was out — I didn’t do a chicken head count last night. And seeing the snake less than 20 feet away from the dead chicken is too much of a coincidence, no?

      I’ve heard that snakebite treatment is extremely costly and not always effective. I’m glad I didn’t have to get any treatment for me or my dog.

  2. If you want to keep your shotgun handy but secure I can recommend ShotLock and they are made locally inSedro Woolley. They are’t as secure as a traditional gun safe but will keep it readily available with a loaded magazine tube while preventing casual theft/misuse. It could readily be secured in either your trailer or in you new home.

    • Right now, I just leave it unloaded so I don’t have to worry about it going off by accident. There are no kids around and the area is generally quite secure. But I’ll keep this in mind when I move into my home if I decide I want to keep it loaded and handy. Thanks!

  3. I think using the gun is a safer option. At least you can use it effectively from a distance. You need to be too close for comfort to use a shovel. Do you think there was a risk of it biting you? Can it bite once it is cut into bits? Thankfully we don’t see many snakes in the UK so it is not something I am familiar with.

    • I agree about the gun, but when I saw the snake, I had a shovel in my hand and the gun was at least 60 seconds away from being retrieved, loaded, and fired. In 60 seconds, the damn snake would have been back under the shed. I just think it’s amazing that I had a shovel in my hand when I saw him!

      I don’t think he could have bitten me. He was definitely in retreat when I first struck him and that slowed him down a bit. The next two strikes made it impossible for him to spring up at me.

      Yes, they CAN still bite when the head is cut off. This one was still hissing and moving 15 minutes later when I finally got up the nerve to scoop it up. I threw the chicken on top mostly to hold it down.

      It was a grizzly scene at my place yesterday morning! I can imagine the mess the shotgun would have made!

  4. A hoe is the best tool for rattlesnakes. The handle is long and it is bent in just the right way for reaching out and whacking them right near their head!

    They will always squirm, no need to stop the squirming. Just separate the head from the body and they are dead…

    My son, when he was 4, got his first rattlesnake.

    Then, you should cut off the head and bury it. Flies and things can still get into the venom in the head and transmit it to you or your animals, or friends.

    We always only went after them if they were living where we were living and could hurt people, animals, etc. that came to visit us.

    • Thanks for all this. You’re right about the hoe. It would be the perfect shape to kill a snake. My shovel had a pretty long handle and did the job, especially since I kept whacking away at it.

      And thanks also for the first good reason to bury the head. All the other reasons have been sort of vague, mentioning the potential for the snake to still bite, even though it’s dead. Next time, I’ll make sure it’s under ground.

      • Just got another snake last night with a hoe… it was over 12 years old – a big one. Saved the rattles and put them into the jar with all the other rattles!

        • Good job!

          I’ve been wanting to save the rattles, but the snakes are still squirming when I dispose of them. I just can’t stomach cutting off the rattles when it’s still moving!

          • LOL! Be patient. Go for the head, not the body when you kill them. They never squirm much when you wait a little bit. It’s sort of sick though, but something that grandpa always did and passed down to all of us. Nothing like a jar of rattles to impress the city folk!

            The next think you should do is to skin the big snakes and cook them!

            Or even,as a good friend did when he finally got a really big one, skin it with the rattles on and made a band for his hat!

            • I’ve eaten rattlesnake in a restaurant in Arizona. Doesn’t seem worth the effort — at least not for the two small ones I killed. A big one, though? That might be some good eating!

What do you think?