November Rattlesnake Strikes Deer Hunter

The last thing this Upson County deer hunter expected to find when he got his climbing stand to the bottom of the tree was a big rattlesnake to strike.

David Long | November 17, 1994

This story is the absolute truth. I have written it because this incident is unusual and it proves two things that most people do not believe:

(1) Rattlesnakes will strike before they rattle.

(2) Snakes will come out of their dens anytime of the year if the weather is warm enough. My ordeal occurred last November. The sky was clear with an occasional gentle breeze. It was beautiful weather for November. For most of the week, we had temperatures reaching 80 degrees.

The leaves were falling, and when a breeze would touch certain trees a bushel basket of leaves would float to the ground.

I was deer hunting near Thomaston, Georgia in Upson County. It was 3:30 p.m. when I climbed the hickory tree from which I frequently hunted.

The type of portable stand I was using is the type most serious deer hunters use. It has two pieces—a seat climber and a foot climber.

David Long, safely back at his Austell home, holds the November rattlesnake that made for an exciting end to an Upson County deer hunt during the 1993 season.

I was hunting in the edge of some hardwoods that were bordered by short pines and thick brush. I was aware that if there is a warm spell during the winter months, snakes will come out of their dens to get something to eat or just lie in the sun. But, I had forgotten my snake chaps. If I had known what was going to happen in the next three hours I would have stayed in camp, snake chaps or not.

I sat high in the tree And watched the leaves fall and the squirrels and chipmunks scurry around. Coyotes were yelping over the ridge, and I watched a small hawk narrowly miss nabbing a squirrel. Though I didn’t see any deer, I had an enjoyable evening of watching the woods.

About 20 minutes after sundown. it was too dark to see, so I decided to call it quits. I tied my rifle on a cord and eased it to the ground.

Whether this, or me climbing down the tree, attracted the 4-foot timber rattler, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, the snake was waiting for me when I reached the ground, and, by that time it was dark.

When I got to the bottom of the tree, I shifted my foot climber as low as I could so I could move my seat climber low enough to step out. This is when I heard and felt something hit my foot climber. The hit was hard enough that it knocked the stand to the right. A second later, I heard the leaves rustle next to my left foot. I looked down and what I saw shocked me to the limits. I could see the large section of a rattlesnake moving next to my left foot. Then the rattles started. Once you hear a rattle you never forget the sound.

At this time, my survival instincts took over, and I jumped up on the seat climber. The seat shifted to the right and I lost my balance and almost fell on top of the snake, but I managed to grab the tree and steady myself.

As you can imagine, my adrenaline was in maximum overdrive. There I was in a Mexican standoff with a 4-foot timber rattler. Me, standing on the seat, and the snake 2 feet away—rattling like crazy. All of a sudden, I realized the snake had struck at me. That is what had hit my climber! Then, a change came over me. Anger overcame fear, and I knew I had to kill the snake because, if not, I would be afraid to climb the tree again. I was too close to it to jump out of the seat on the left side and there were large rocks on the right side. The only weapon I had on me was my pocket knife. No way I was going after a rattlesnake with a knife.

Then, I remembered my rifle on the ground. It was behind me on the left. I reached down slowly with my left hand and grabbed the cord where it was tied to the safety rail of the seat climber. But, I realized that I had to let go of the tree with both hands to pull the slack out of the cord to lift my rifle. So, I steadied myself and pulled on the cord. Finally, I had my rifle in my hands, but I could not see the snake very well. Of course, I could hear it loud and clear.

I got my small flashlight out and located its head. I aimed through my scope, but, because of darkness and being so close, the snake was a blur. I just aimed at what I thought was its head and fired. Missed! I bolted another round in the chamber and aimed at what I thought was the thick part of the snake, and I fired again. I know I hit the snake that time because it Hipped over on its back and thrashed around in the leaves.

So, now what do I do? I’m standing up on my stand and the snake is now about three feet away, still on my left. I had to get down on the ground, but my stand is too high to step out of, so I eased my feet down into my foot climber. Then, I lowered my seat down enough so I could step out on the right side away from the snake. I stepped out and moved around the tree to where I had last seen the snake, but I kept my distance.

It sure was a relief to be standing on the ground, but I still had a problem. I shined my flashlight, but could not see the snake in the leaves. This was almost as frightening as the first time I heard it rattle. Finally, I located it moving slowly toward me. I tried to aim my rifle at it, and had the same results as before. I could not see it in my scope, but I pulled the trigger anyway. CLICK —empty chamber. In my excitement, I had not pulled the bolt back far enough to cock the rifle.

By this time the snake had hidden most of itself in the leaves and under a small log. I laid my rifle down and started picking up limbs to hit the snake with. But each time I looked away to find a limb I had a hard time locating the snake again. Keep in mind that by this time it was pitch dark. Every limb I found was rotten and seemed to have no effect on the snake. All I could see of the snake was the head, and about a foot behind the head. The head was off the ground and facing me. I grabbed anything to throw at it. Once, I even grabbed handfuls of dirt and leaves.

Finally, I found a limb that seemed strong. I poked around in the leaves and found the middle part of the snake. I shoved the limb under the snake and tried to lift it so I could toss it out in the open, but the snake was so heavy the limb broke. I rushed around and found another limb. This time I managed to toss the snake away from the tree and log. I hit it but the limb broke.

The snake was still moving and its head was looking for a target. At this time I looked around and quickly found a rock about the size of a grapefruit. I used both hands and threw it at the snake’s head. Good Shot!

I still had a hard time being able to tell whether the snake was dead. Think about it, where is a snake’s vital area? I personally know of two ways to be absolutely sure the snake is dispatched: (1) cut its head off; or (2) come back the next day, and if the snake is still there and the ants are eating it, you know for sure.

As I said earlier, I could not leave a live timber rattler in my hunting area. I grabbed another large rock and repeated the first throw. The snake looked dead, almost, but it was still moving. I realized I had to cut its head off. I held the head down with the limb, then I held the middle part of the snake with my left foot, took out my pocket knife and quickly finished the job. Immediately, I used the stick to knock the head well away from the body.

Suddenly I realized the ordeal was over and my legs became weak, so I sat down and looked at the snake. I was very relieved, but then a frightening thought came over me. I realized I had to walk back to my truck, a quarter mile away in total darkness. My adrenaline started to flow again. I decided to stop thinking about it and to do it.

I picked up the snake in one hand.

Yuck, I immediately dropped it. I could not stand to touch it. I’ve never been this way about holding snakes, but something about this one gave me the chills. I cut a 5-foot piece of cord and tied it to the snake. With my rifle in one hand I partially carried and dragged the snake to the truck.

As I walked out of the woods that evening, I stomped my feet on the ground —just in case there was another November rattler that might cross my path!

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