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From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

A rattlesnake in the Columbia Hills (Tom Kloster)
Crossing the trail on Rowena Plateau (Steve Hart)

The only potentially dangerous snakes in the Pacific Northwest are various subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake. They are usually fairly small, 2 feet or less in length. They are normally mottled or striped and coloring ranges from brown or tan to white. Some rattlers have a greenish, olive cast. The key spotting features for a rattlesnake are the rattle and the diamond-shaped head.

Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes and untreated bites are potentially lethal. The risk of snakebite, however, is often exaggerated. According to the FDA, in the entire United States each year, 8000 people are bitten by venomous snakes, but only 9-15 victims die. Of course, that doesn’t mean that snakebites should be ignored. Fortunately, it’s usually pretty easy to avoid getting bitten, because snakes want nothing to do with humans and will avoid them when at all possible.

According to government statistics, three out of every four snakebite victims are between 19 and 30 years old. 98% of victims are male. 40% of bites occur to people that admit they were playing with the snake. In addition, 40% of snakebite victims are legally drunk. It seems obvious that taunting, capturing or playing with snakes is a recipe for getting bitten. “Hey guys, watch this!” is never a good way to deal with a snake.

Note: Rattlesnakes do not always inject venom when they bite; 20-25% of bites are "dry bites." (A rattlesnake doesn't need to envenomate a human, because it knows we're not prey.) Young snakes have a reputation for being "more poisonous," but that's only because they haven't learned how to withhold venom; they never give dry bites.

The key to avoiding snakebite is to avoid snakes in the first place. Here are a few ways to reduce the chance of getting bitten.

  • Stay out of tall grass and brushy areas. Give yourself the chance to see snakes first.
  • Be careful when stepping over logs or large rocks. Hidden snakes might be startled and strike without rattling.
  • When scrambling, watch where you put your hands.
  • Wear good, thick boots to make it more difficult for snakes to bite.
  • If you see a snake, leave it ALONE.
  • If a snake is blocking your path, take a wide way around, or wait for it to leave on its own.
  • Stay out of the striking radius, typically about 3/4 the length of the snake.
  • If you hear a rattle, stop and locate the source of the sound, then slowly back away.
  • Talk to your kids about snakes.

From [an oregonhikers.org thread]:

What to do in case of a rattlesnake bite...

  • Get the victim away from the snake. Do not attempt to capture or kill the snake.
  • Do not attempt oral suction or incising the skin. Suction is not effective.
  • If there are immediate, severe symptoms, keep the victim quiet. Activity increases venom absorption. Send for help immediately.
  • Evacuate the victim at once. To be effective, antivenin is best given within 4 to 6 hours after the bite.... Keep the bitten limb below the heart and clean the bite.
  • Use a sling or a splint to loosely immobilize the affected limb.
  • If there is no immediate reaction, start to walk slowly with the victim to the trailhead. Sending for help can take longer than walking for help. If evacuation is prolonged, and there are no symptoms after 6 to 8 hours, there probably has been no envenomation.

Bites without signs of venom injection require only a tetanus shot and care of the bite wounds.


  • ...use cold or ice.
  • ...use the cut-and-suck method.
  • ...use a tourniquet.
  • ...use alcohol.
  • ...use aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • ...use any suction device.

When self-extraction is the only choice...

  • Calm down (if possible) and get away from the snake
  • Clean or sanitize the wound
  • Remove any constricting clothing, jewelry or other items
  • Cache your heavy gear, and take only the minimum for a ultra-light hike out
  • Hike out the easiest way. This might not be the shortest route. Go easy, do everything to avoid exerting yourself, but keep moving.

[Another interesting thread to read ]

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.