Field Herp Forum

Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable
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Author:  Fire Drake [ October 16th, 2017, 10:50 am ]
Post subject:  Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

Ladies and gents,

It often occurs to me the enormous breadth of experience there is contained in all of the people associated with this board and I have often been tempted to post a BIG question in the hopes of tapping in to that body of experience and knowledge to try and get a better understanding of something important to me and hopefully all of us. Today I am going to pull the trigger on that and fire one off. This one will be a good one because with it will invariably come a great deal of opinion along with actual experience and in this case, one is far more valuable than the other IMO. So here goes...

You are in the bush herping and spot a rocky outcropping that looks too good to pass up. While looking inside the cracks you momentarily drop your guard and place your hand down on an innocent looking spot next to you and it happens...BAM! The Two-fanged drive-by! A solid hit and likely envenomation by one of our Crotalus friends.

This does happen and each one of us knows at least one person who has been hit. But as I ponder the thought of, "what would I do..." a flood of disproven, old and possibly dangerous advice still comes to mind first before I consciously try and remember the more recent and useful information I have heard from people I trust a bit more than the average hunter of fisherman who in most cases would rather kill a snake than admire it for even a second.

What IS the best course of action? What SHOULD you do in the first moments, the minutes you will have waiting for or seeking out the necessary help that will be paramount in your survival? I at least have learned in the last decade or so that stun guns and snake-bite kits are useless if not highly dangerous. There are so many things that one COULD do but which ones will distill down and end up as good advice on this thread? Please have at it and let 'er rip. I can't wait to learn more about the 'unthinkable' moment that I hope never happens to me but could I must admit, happen at least once in my lifetime--depending on where I go and what exactly I am hoping to find.

Thanks all...

Author:  Bryan Hamilton [ October 16th, 2017, 11:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

There is not much you can do in the field for first aid. Keep the limb immobilized and at the level of the heart. Most important is activating 911 and getting to a hospital. Snakebite kits are useless and cause additional damage. If hiking out is the fastest way to get medical care, hike out.

Legitimate bites do happen but even our community they are rare. My bite was from grabbing a rattlesnake not once but twice by the tail.

Prevention, prevention, prevention. An envenomation can easily run over 100K in medical costs. Without insurance that equals bankruptcy for most of us.

A venomous snake bite is not part of being a field herper. Its no badge of honor. It makes the rattlesnakes look bad too.

Author:  melissaisdown [ October 16th, 2017, 12:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

I concur with Bryan Hamilton that prevention and vigilance are the best ways to handle a snake bite -- that is, to never get one.

However, my 9-5 has me in a position to teach First Aid/CPR/AED training, so I know a little bit about Wilderness and Remote First Aid, and I can tell you that the manual that's used says this:

Venomous Snake Bites

Snakebites kill few people in the United States. Of the estimated 7000 people bitten annually, fewer than 5 die. Most snakebites occur near the home, not in the wild. Rattlesnakes account for most snakebites, and most of the deaths from snakebites in the United States. Most deaths occur because the bitten person has an allergic reaction, is in poor health or because too much time passes before he or she receives medical care.

What to Look For
Signals of a possibly venomous snakebite include:
■ A bite mark.
■ Pain.
■ Swelling.

When to Call 9-1-1
If the bite is from a venomous snake such as a
rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth or coral
snake call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number

What to Do Until Help Arrives
To care for a venomous snake bite:
■ Wash the wound.
■ Apply an elastic (pressure immobilization) bandage
to slow the spread of venom through the lymphatic
system by following these steps:

Check for feeling, warmth and color of the limb and note changes in skin color and temperature.

Place the end of the bandage against the skin and
use overlapping turns.

The wrap should cover a long body section,
such as an arm or a calf, beginning at the point
farthest from the heart. For a joint, such as the
knee or ankle, use fi gure-eight turns to support
the joint.

Check above and below the injury for feeling,
warmth and color, especially fi ngers and toes,
after you have applied an elastic roller bandage.
By checking before and after bandaging, you may
be able to tell if any tingling or numbness is from
the elastic bandage or the injury.

Check the snugness of the bandaging—a finger
should easily, but not loosely, pass under the

Keep the injured area still and lower than the
heart. The person should walk only if absolutely

■ Do not apply ice.
■ Do not cut the wound.
■ Do not apply suction.
■ Do not apply a tourniquet.
■ Do not use electric shock, such as from a car battery.

Hope that helps. Message me if you have any other questions or want to know where specifically I'm siting this from.

Author:  Lloyd Heilbrunn [ October 17th, 2017, 7:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

"Keep the limb immobilized and at the level of the heart."

"Keep the injured area still and lower than the


So, which is it?

Author:  BillMcGighan [ October 18th, 2017, 5:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

Great answers and discussion.

It also should be mentioned that a high incidence of venomous bites have no or mild envenomation. Some put it as high as 20 to 25% of all bites of pit vipers. This generally is a function of the state of excitement, species, temperature, etc., of the animal.

Herpers do themselves a favor to learn as much about target species, venom virulence, symptoms, their own health history risk, etc. Urgency of response to a western Mohave would be different than an eastern Copperhead. In areas where “snakebite” is not common, ER staff can be amazingly ignorant.

A zoologist I knew handled many venomous animals with caution and no incident.
He went fishing, rolled a log for bait, and got tagged by a Copperhead. When he arrived at the ER, the attending doctor walked into the room studying two packages of antivenin: one primarily for hemotoxin, one primarily for neurotoxin.
The zoologist commented to the doctor. “You don’t know which to use, do you?”

This was probably a very competent doctor for all the trauma he normally saw, but “snakebite”…..

Author:  Fire Drake [ October 18th, 2017, 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

Legitimate bites do happen but even our community they are rare.

I am sure this is true and a testament to how seriously most field herpers take what they are doing. However some of us seem to just have a bit of bad luck now and again--hence my question and use of the term "unthinkable." Things go wrong sometimes even with the best of intentions/experience/training. We are only human, after all.

A venomous snake bite is not part of being a field herper. Its no badge of honor. It makes the rattlesnakes look bad too.

Couldn't agree more and this was very well stated. We all lose when something like this happens. I will definitely take "prevention" away as one of the advisory frontrunners in this discussion. Thanks for your reply. Any chance we could learn more about your bite experience?

Author:  Fieldherper [ October 18th, 2017, 2:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

-Cliche, but the best snakebite kit is a cell phone and pair of car keys.

-Mortality, as mentioned earlier in this thread, is extremely low for North American snakebites.

-Call 911 and wait for EMS if you can, or else have someone drive you. Driving while you are upset/stressed/panicked is a bad idea and more likely to kill you than a snakebite in North America.

-As mentioned, if you MUST hike out, then do so, but call for help as soon as is possible.

-Get to the nearest hospital. No field measures, except for the "pressure-immobilization bandage" for neurotoxic snakes (Australian elapids, American coral snakes, etc...) have been shown to help.

-If you can, call the Regional Poison Center (1-800-222-1222 no matter where you are) to appraise them of the situation. They have medical toxicologists on staff that can assist you and the treating hospital staff with the management of both native and exotic venomous snakes. If you cannot call before you reach the hospital, ask that they call when you arrive.

-If you do not have health insurance coverage, you should take great pause when considering interacting with venomous snakes. The risk of a bite obviously increases with exposure. Snakebites are very expensive and often avoidable medical emergencies for herpers/keepers.


Author:  stlouisdude [ October 19th, 2017, 3:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

Ideally, you wouldn't be alone, however 90% of the time I find I am alone when herping. Ideally, you'd have cell coverage, sadly, I rarely have signal in the places I enjoy herping. So in some cases, the results might be quite bad or at least cause significant panic that something really bad might go down. Having said that, most bites are avoidable and I think that's where you can really have a big impact. Never assume that the snake you see is the only one there. With pit vipers, such is often not the case! Obviously keep your hands away from crevices and walk slowly in prairie and tall weeds likely to harbor venomous snakes. Nothing is without risk, look at nearly any medication and you'll see it could probably cause an extremely rare and serious symptom even death, but we aren't going to stop taking medicines which are overwhelmingly helpful. Likewise the exercise in herping is overwhelmingly beneficial to your health versus the tiny risk you will drop dead or go broke from snakebite.

Author:  Fire Drake [ October 27th, 2017, 9:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Looking for Advice on the Unthinkable

Thank you all for taking the time to comment. I value each and every opinion here. Have fun and stay safe all!!!

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