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Working with snakes safely
Working with snakes safely
Published by midwesternerr
snake Working with snakes safely

Working with Snakes Safely

The standard speech

Venomous snake bites are quite rare, and highly unlikely to result in death. For example, one is 30x more likely to die from lightening strike and 160x more likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, than a venomous snake bite
(“Snakes” & “Statistics”). The following quote puts most of those bites into context, “The vast majority of venomous snakebite victims are males between the ages of 17-27 years who are bitten during deliberate attempts to handle or kill snakes. Many of these young men are under the influence of alcohol” (Johnson & Main, 2009). What little risk remains by not handling venomous snakes in attention-seeking shows of machismo, can be further reduced by using some basic tools.

Foot Wear

Whether or not one should purchase snake boots, how tall of boot to purchase, etc., is a matter of personal estimation. Taller boots provide more leg protection (at least on level ground), but also may offer less mobility. Falling down poses risks of its own. If one is specifically and purposely going into tall grass or other areas where venomous snakes are both common and difficult to see, snake boots may be a good idea. Cabelas has inexpensive snake boots of various sizes. Even so, the best policy is slow, steady, and careful movement in such areas.

Cabela's snake boots Working with snakes safely-boot.jpg

The mechanical arm

Generally, the best thing to do with any snake is to simply leave it where it was found. However, sometimes a snake will be found lingering on a roadway, in the presence of devious humans, or in one's basement! In the event that leaving the snake where it was found is not an option, most nonvenomous snakes can simply be picked up with one's hands. However, let's say it is a dark night, a car's brights are shining in your eyes as it fast approaches you, the snake is holding its head up in a intimidating position and refuses to scoot off the road, and you have only moments to react. These are the type of situations where mis-identification could easily occur. Anytime a snake cannot be positively identified, and legitimately needs to be moved, the best course of action will be the mechanical arm a.k.a the snake hook.

Professional-grade snake hooks can be purchased from a number of sources at reasonable prices. However, it is also easy to construct them from old golf clubs, metal bars, or as I will demonstrate below, 20$ worth of materials from HomeDepot.

Here is our list of materials:
  • A blunt-ended paint brush roller (~2$)
  • A package of JB Weld (NOT JB Kwik) (~4$)
  • A fairly thick, 4' wooden Dowel (~4$)
  • A small hack saw (~7$)
The materials Working with snakes safely-shmaterials.jpg

The construction is fairly straightforward. It's important to use JB Weld as the Kwik product has only half the strength (J-B Weld Company - Frequently Asked Questions).

  1. Using the hack saw, cut the paint roller's metal piece off. Remember that at least 2” will need to go inside the wooden dowel for support.
  2. Using an appropriate sized bit, probably 1/4” or smaller, drill a hole deeply into the center of the wooden dowel's end.
  3. Insure the paint roller's metal piece fits into the entrance hole.
  4. Thoroughly mix equal proportions of each JB Weld tube together on a clean paper plate.
  5. Roll the lower potion of the metal piece into the JB Weld mixture to get a heavy coat.
  6. Insert the metal piece into the wooden dowel. Use a paper towel to swear excess JB Weld around the top of the wooden dowel for water protection. Remove excess JB Weld using the towel.
  7. Allow the dowel to set upright for 24 hours in a warm, dry place.
Working with snakes safely-shjbweld.jpg
Working with snakes safely-shfinished.jpg

This will create a “snake hook” strong and long enough to manipulate most snakes. The snakes can then be picked up by sliding the hook (gently) under them. The snakes should never be lifted high in the air, because a fall could harm them. It's also possible that a snake lifted high might begin traveling down the snake hook towards the handler! Since the snake hook must be scooted under the snake, it is very important to make sure there are no sharp ends, barbs, or protruding metal fragments. Obviously, no snake hook used for captive specimens should be applied to wild snakes. This could result in the spread of disease in either direction. Additionally, snake hooks are not suitable for lifting most cover objects. With the home made version especially, the entire end could come out! Even if it does not, objects tend to slide off of snake hooks and could injure whatever is hiding below. A four tined cultivator can be used for lifting tin and small boards. However, heavier boards and rocks will slide off even it. These items can only be safely lifted by hand (obviously, just leave them alone if you cannot control them or have to bury your hands underneath of them to lift.)


Johnson, S.A., & Main, M. B. (2009). Dealing with Venomous Snakes in Florida School Yards. Retrieved from WEC 199/UW225: Dealing with Venomous Snakes in Florida School Yards .

Snakes of Missouri Retrieved from Snakes of Missouri

Statistics, Gun Control Issues, and Safety. Retrieved from FIREARMS TUTORIAL (University of Utah Medical Library)
By Equilibrium on 06-21-2010, 01:19 AM

We don't have any venemous snakes but if we did.... I'd make one of your snake hooks in a heart beat.
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By suunto on 06-21-2010, 07:26 AM

Good, common-sense advice. On a few occasions many years ago, I collected venomous snakes bare-handed (and once with an insect net!), but these were under circumstances where I felt that my risk of being bitten were extremely low. Nevertheless, I would never attempt that now (too old and slow...). Also, my brother finds JB Weld very useful in his farm shop, and based on his advice, I now always keep some handy...
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By hazelnut on 06-21-2010, 08:38 AM

We do have venomous snakes here and local workmen treat all snakes as if they were venemous. Most people are terrified even of harmless rat snakes --and these can get quite big. To me confrontation with a 6 or 7 ft snake is at least as intimidating as if the snake were venemous.

A few years ago a large rat snake entered a vent and took up residence in my oven. Needless to say I spent a few anxious days. He did leave on his own some time in the 2nd day.

Im not sure if the tool you describe would have given me more confidence in getting that snake out of my oven and outside past two barking dogs.

Thanks for the information, though.
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By midwesternerr on 06-21-2010, 06:46 PM

Hazelnut: The rat snakes I just pick up. On the ground, they just bounce off my boots if they strike. Mostly they either just lay there or assume a striking position but don't actually manage to bite me. They are intimidating because they are so big, but honestly I'd rather be bitten by a rat snake than stung by a wasp any day of the week. If they are up in rafters, a hook wouldn't be safe (might knock it down). Best to just wait til it's close enough to grab or move with the hook from the ground. Make fun of the male coworkers as girlie men if they are scared of them lol Then they will all want to redeem their egos and show you how macho they are by picking it up!

Suunto: I think most times you can feel when a snake is likely to strike, but I am actually pretty cautious just to be on the safe side. I've been lucky that about the time I started encountering a lot of venomous, I also read books by long time snake hunters like Bruce Means that described Eastern Diamondback bites (ouch). Also, a certain tour guide in costa rica giving me gruesome details of fer de lance strikes put at least a healthy (maybe more) fear down my spine!

Equil: Some day you should take a trip down to MO. We have 5 venomous species and they are all neat (1 endangered, though)!
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By suunto on 06-22-2010, 08:29 AM

Originally Posted by midwesternerr View Post
Suunto: I think most times you can feel when a snake is likely to strike, but I am actually pretty cautious just to be on the safe side.
I must admit to having been caught off guard once. While in grad school (Purdue) during the mid 60s, another entomology grad student enlisted my aid in 'taming' an adult black racer (Coluber constrictor) that he had captured and kept in a large terrarium. A few times a week, I would carefully remove the snake from its enclosure and simply gently but firmly enough so that it could not escape my grasp. After a few weeks of this procedure, the snake appeared to behave quite calmly (for a racer) while being handled, and I began to relax my grip. At one point, I allowed the snake to move some 18" through may hands, and we regarded each other calmly. Then, with no preliminaries, it struck, nailing me on my nasal septum! I quickly disengaged it and returned the snake to its enclosure whilst stemming the blood flow with a hankie. I never told my friend what happened...
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By hazelnut on 06-22-2010, 02:17 PM

I used to handle blue racers quite often back home (northern Michigan). I would chase my brothers with them. Mostly they were docile, but I was bitten a number of times. The bite is like a razor cut and heals quickly. I don't remember ever getting infected from a snake bite.

I am rather intimited to handle a snake that is longer than I am tall, though and many of the rat snakes here in Alabama are. I usually wait for him to decide what he wants to do, and then I act accordingly.
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By midwesternerr on 06-22-2010, 04:03 PM

Here's an old friend sitting on my lap!
Working with snakes safely-brat4.jpg

This one came out from under a piece of tin, and kept trying to go down a hole in the knee of my jeans lol
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By hazelnut on 06-24-2010, 08:22 AM

He is a beauty. Some of their skin patterns are mesmerizing. "An old friend" -- does he recognize you?
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By midwesternerr on 06-24-2010, 09:35 PM

No, he just treated me like an old friend
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