With the south valley’s rattlesnake population mostly dispersed for the summer, the regional Fish and Game office is encouraging Hailey and Bellevue residents to know local hunting regulations and take extra precautions to keep themselves and their pets safe.
Great Basin rattlesnakes dispersed from their dens—or “hibernacula”—in search of ground squirrels, gophers and small rabbits around Memorial Day this year, according to local snake expert Alan Rickers. Recently, the reptiles have shown up in Woodside subdivision backyards and gardens. They have also made appearances in Hailey’s Old Cutters subdivision and the Quigley Canyon, Indian Creek and Democrat Gulch areas.
“Snake country is anywhere south of East Fork [Road],” said Rickers, who has been studying Blaine County’s Great Basin rattlesnakes for over 16 years.
While their dens tend to be on higher-elevation exposed rock faces where they hibernate during the winter, rattlesnakes can stray miles from home in search of food, he said.
“It’s been warmer than usual, so they’ve been spreading out, just cruising along and looking for rodents in the greenery,” he said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than usual [in suburban areas] this summer.”
Based on their territory and patterning, Rickers is able to recognize and even visit with several snakes in western Hailey. The reptiles are shy by nature and will do anything to avoid an encounter, he said.
He said a recent killing of a rattlesnake in Woodside subdivision, shared in a public Facebook post this week, had saddened him, though he understood the thought process of the poster.
“It’s too bad but also kind of inevitable, given the way people feel about snakes and snake behavior in general,” he said, adding that rattlesnakes are often confused with nonvenomous, more slender gopher snakes. (Rattlesnakes can be distinguished by their larger, more triangular heads.)
According to Fish and Game spokesman Terry Thompson, it’s not illegal to kill a rattlesnake if you feel your life or other lives are in danger, but a hunting license is required for possession.
“In a situation like this, where a snake was found in a yard/garden, the homeowner can kill the snake. The inherent risk of a rattlesnake in a neighborhood or around a home is sufficient,” Thompson wrote in a Tuesday email. “If that person does not have a valid hunting license, then they need to contact a Fish and Game officer to come and take possession of the snake, since it would be illegal to possess the snake without a valid hunting license.”
A maximum of four rattlesnakes may be taken and possessed—dead or alive—with a hunting license, Thompson said, and can either be “kept as pets or killed for a hat band or other personal uses.”
To avoid negative interactions with the snakes, Rickers advises trail runners and recreationalists to remove headphones and earbuds to listen for the snakes’ defensive rattling. (The rattling has been described as a cross between an electrical buzzing and a loud insect.) Snake tracks—which resemble crisscrosses in the gravel—are another indicator that the reptiles may be nearby.
He also recommends that dog owners see their veterinarians for protective rattlesnake vaccines, which help dogs create antibodies to neutralize the venom. St. Francis Pet Clinic and Sun Valley Animal Center in Ketchum and Sawtooth Animal Center in Bellevue are among the local veterinary offices that offer the vaccine.
Medical professionals recommend that anyone bitten by a rattlesnake call 911 immediately and remain calm, as trying to extract the venom is not only unproductive but could make the situation worse. Keeping the bite site below heart-level is also advised.