Deadly Encounters in Ranch Life

Every day on the ranch I encounter the deadliest animal on the planet… Mosquitoes. But they are not the one’s I keep an eye out for. I try to be very watchful for those snakes out there. Snakes are the one thing that will make jump, yell, and run away. “I hate snakes” is an understatement. There was even one time I saw one while doing yard work with my grandmother and left her to deal with the snake. Then there’s the countless times I have been pickup metal, scrap, etc and almost grabbed snakes. But until this week, don’t believe I’ve ever actually stepped on one.

Yesterday I was out checking cattle, one thing leads to another, and it takes all day long just to make it through all 9 herds. In the late afternoon with this heat, most of the cattle hit the woods by 10 and don’t come out til late afternoon when the sun gets low. I was out on the 4-wheeler and found the cows, but had to get off and hoof it to get a good look at em. The cows will often bed down in the trees, usually in a draw next to water where it will be cooler. I’m walking down the slope when I trip and grab at some branches. I sorta felt something funny about my footing, looked down and there’s a big ole copperhead snake under my foot. A scream, jump, and shake later, I’m back on top of the 4-wheeler, hoping that my dog wasn’t following too close and missed a snake bite. Pretty sure the only way I missed a bite is my yell (some may describe it as a scream) probably startled the snake. After my heart rate returned to normal, I realized I was ok. If I ever meet up with that snake on the road, it may not be an accident if I swerve.

I’m always getting asked what snakes we have in Arkansas, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to share. But just to let ya know, I have a terrible time even looking at snake photos, so this is not a fun post to write. You can view all snakes in Arkansas on the Game and Fish website.

Black Rat Snake – I see this snake often, climbing trees looking for birds and eggs. He also eats mice, kills prey by constriction, vibrates its tail when threatened, and can grow up to 72″ in length.

Speckled Kingsnake – Despite my belief that all snakes are of the devil, I might let this one pass as he eats other snakes, especially venomous ones. I saw one of these snakes crawling across the yard recently as friends and I were gathered around the grill. He crawled straight to the barn and obviously was looking for some food and a cool spot to rest.

Racer Snake – Don’t even get me started on this black snake. I see em all the time and they can grow up to 5′ in length.

Cottonmouth – I see these snakes often. They stick near water sources and will open their mouth when threatened.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake – Even though this is Arkansas’ rarest venomous snake, I really, really do not want to run up on these. They can reach up to 72″, eat larger rodents and rabbits, but will have the classic rattle when threatened.

Copperhead – Oh how I hate this snake, and its the one I stepped on. It’ll grow up to 36″ and eats small rodents and small snakes, but is venomous. You’ll find these snakes in woods, brush, and rocks (all the places cattle seem to congregate).

Ok, now my nerves are on end. I hate even thinking about snakes. Are you aware which snakes are in your area? Have you or someone you know ever been bitten?


  1. Awesome! I had a similar experience about 15 years ago when dove hunting. I was walking back to the truck in some tall grass, when I had to walk through some dead Oak tree limbs on the ground. I was kind of watching my step not to trip over a branch when I almost stepped on a huge rattlesnake. Fortunately it was sleeping. As my partner who was watching me from a short distance away will attest, I launched myself from the one foot that was still on the ground about ten feet through the air. I actually flew from the adrenelin rush. The shreek I let out left no doubt in his mind what I had just encountered. He was laughing while I was trying to get my wits back.

  2. We don’t see much but black snakes around here. I am glad. They give me the willies, but at least I don’t have to wonder what kind it is when I get a glimpse!

  3. We have many of the same snakes here in NC, except we have the Eastern Diamondback instead of the Western. I’ve seen a copperhead recently. It’s the sight that makes a 6’3″ 250 pound man sound like a 4 year old girl……

    1. I have to correct myself now. I just looked it up, and we have the TIMBER rattlesnake in this region and NOT the Eastern Diamondback. That actually makes me feel a little better since I found this quote.

      “The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the most dangerous North American snake. Specimens have been captured as large as 8 feet long and weighing 15 pounds. The snake’s 3/4″ fangs are capable of penetrating almost any boot.”

      Then again, is a rattlesnake ever a comforting sight? This research is all your fault, but it just reinforces my desires to be fully armed when checking cattle. I’ll just go ahead and put the shotgun on the rack with the rifle for coyotes, and the pistol in the glovebox.

  4. Here in SD we only have one poisonous snake- the prairie rattler. They are very docile though they will rattle at you when they’re threatened. But they’d just as soon go the other way from you when threatened. They do however find themselves dead if we run onto one because they bite the horses. And if one finds itself too close to one of the houses it’s a dead snake. Otherwise we have blue racers, bull snakes (which can make themselves sound like rattlesnakes) and grass snakes. To those we apply our “live and let live” policy. They eat rats and other small critters, and since they won’t kill you, we figure we’ll just let them be.

    Your post really made me lol. I don’t like snakes either, but I an at least keep my wits to deal with them. Sometimes. 🙂 Have a good one!

    1. Haha I’m with ya Jen on lettin em live as long as they leave me alone. However, if any are found near the barns or houses they are rid of so I don’t find any babies hanging around. We’ve got the cats and dogs for the critters around the buildings.

  5. Great story! Though I probably would’ve had the same reaction as you to the copperhead, I don’t share you sentiments towards all snakes. I’m no fan of venomous snakes, of which Pennsylvania has 3 species, the Northern Copperhead, the Timber Rattlesnake, and the Massasauga Rattlesnake. I don’t think I can recall anyone I know ever being bitten by a snake. However, when I was in high school I worked at a draft horse stable and they had a Clydesdale gelding that was bitten by a rattlesnake on the inside of his hind leg. The leg and his underside swelled up pretty bad and the horse got pretty sick. The vet only gave him a 50/50 chance to make it. Somehow though he pulled out of it and lived. After that the gelding was pretty much the same horse but seemed to have a slight change in his gait and a small loss of muscle mass in the leg that was bitten. I went on to show that Clydesdale in 4-H draft horse cart classes and did quite well with him.

    1. Oh yeah I forgot to mention about the dangers of our livestock being bitten. How could I forget that?!? We’ve had cattle bitten on their jaws while grazing and even on their underlines while standing in water.

  6. I’m very proud of myself for reading this whole thing (tho I did try to avoid looking at the pics). Rattlers are the most prevalent venomous snake around here. Bull snakes are common too.

  7. Wow, those are huge snakes! We have nothing like that in my area, which is probably a good thing because I’d scream and run too! We do, however, have lots of the other deadliest animal on the planet that you mention – mosquitoes! Monster mosquitoes in fact. It’s been such a wet year that they’re even worse than usual.

  8. So Ryan you’re saying I should leave my ball python home in TN?! ;-D My brother in IL has an ongoing Twitterfeed snakesinthebasement – they seek out his place. But took care of the mice. Am like others – don’t like the ‘hot’ snakes especially around stock…but others live and let live.

  9. Great post…I hate snakes and so I read quickly and missed all the pictures! Out here in NE we see snakes much too often for my liking…5 rattlesnakes today in fact. There is a kill on sight policy for those, the rest we let be. We’ve got a whole assortment of green racers, bull snakes and hog nosed snakes that I’ve seen plus many more I’m sure thankful I haven’t seen. Thanks for sharing about the risks of being a rancher! And letting all us ophidiophobics lament. (I had to look it up! Can’t help it…I’m a nerd.)

    1. Haha, Ophidiophobics…. I may have to use that one! Nothin wrong with bein a nerd. 5 in a day?!? Yeah pretty sure I would put the same policy in place.

  10. I grew up with a mother how is deathly afraid of snakes in North Eastern Colo. At the ranch the philosophy from my mom was the only good snake is a dead snake. My dad liked to put bull snakes in the shops to keep the mice in check. So I learned to kill the rattle snakes and leave the bull snakes. My husband in from an area that doens’t have much for poisonous snakes but we now live in central Nebraska and have quite a few rattle snakes. A few years ago our heater went out, it is in the crawl space with an outdoors entrance. Over the coarse of many trips down there to get it running Mark kept hearing something but didn’t know what it was. The repair man got it fixed, but the pilot light went out. This trip to the basement revealed what was making the “funny” noise. A 2 foot rattle snake had desided our crawl space/basement was a great place to spend the cold winter and he was very much mobile and pissed off. The only thing Mark had was a 2 foot piece of plastic tubing from the shop vac to take care of the unwanted house guest. Needless to say I didn’t sleep for a week, thinking it could have had babies down there and they could get through the heating vents……..

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