Rattlesnake Safe in Montana
2022 Spring by Jared Beaver who is the MSU Extension Wildlife Specialist
- Current Issue
- PDF View
- Print Article
Spring through fall are magical seasons in Montana for the outdoor enthusiast. They are also active seasons for snakes out of winter hibernation, making human encounters more likely. For many, snakes evoke feelings of unease to outright panic. However, of the 10 snake species native to Montana, only the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is venomous.
Prairie Rattlesnakes are generally pale green to brown with brown or black blotches along the back extending to the tail where they change from blotches to rings (Fig. 1). Pattern and coloration can vary widely across snake species and region and should not be used as a determining factor for identification.
In Montana, rattlesnakes are widespread and found in a variety of environments (Fig. 2). While Prairie Rattlesnakes are most commonly found in open, arid sites, they also favor south-facing slopes and rocky outcrops and are commonly encountered on such terrain when near water. Prairie Rattlesnakes may also turn up around homes. Chances of being bitten are extremely low compared to the risk of other outdoor injuries and most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched.
Snakes are an important part of our ecosystem, however, the potential of encountering a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors. With a little common sense, one can get out and appreciate all the beauty that Montana has to offer without causing themselves or snakes any harm.
Tips for Snake Safety Outdoors
- Be alert. Most bites occur between April and September when snakes and humans are most active.
- When hiking/recreating:
- Stick to the trail and use care around rock piles, logs, and locations where vegetation types meet.
- Try to step on rocks and logs rather than over, and do not insert hands, step, or sit where you cannot see or visually inspect the area first.
- Wear closed-toed shoes/boots that extend above the ankle. Loose-fitting, long pants with tight weave can also provide a fair amount of protection against snake bites on the lower leg. Never go barefoot.
- If you encounter a snake, maintain a safe distance (15-20 feet) and walk around.
- Teach children not to approach or handle snakes.
- Do not attempt to kill the snake, as many bites can occur during the process.
- Do not handle a freshly-killed snake, as it can still inject venom for some time following death.
- Leash your dog when hiking in snake country. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten while investigating the outdoors.
While rare, snakebites do happen. Have a plan in place for responding to a snake bite situation and always make sure you have a way to communicate in the event of an emergency.
- Stay calm.
- Quickly get yourself and others away from the snake to avoid additional bites.
- If possible, safely take a picture of the snake.
- Activate emergency services as soon as possible by dialing 911.
- Take off all restrictive items (e.g., rings, watches, etc.) as venom occasionally causes swelling.
- DO NOT attempt to capture the snake.
- DO NOT cut the wound with a knife or razor.
- DO NOT use your mouth or other equipment to “suck” out the venom.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet.
- DO NOT pack the bite area in ice.
- DO NOT let the victim drink alcohol.