Snake hunting is an interesting hobby. As a kid, I used to catch snakes for fun. Usually they were harmless garter, gopher or king snakes. My cousins, friends and I caught them at Lake Tahoe or near our home in Tarzana, which was somewhat rural at the time. We kept them a couple of hours, or days at most, and then let them go, as none of them would eat in captivity.
I always knew when my snake of the day escaped from the terrarium in my room, when my mom screamed from the kitchen. They liked the coolness of the linoleum floor there. One day, I rushed into the house, eager to show my parents the large king snake I had just caught, and our visiting neighbor, Ruth Rice, ran out as fast as I ran in.
On another occasion, my cousin Stephen and I were riding our bikes at his house, and we thought we saw a garden hose moving across the width of the driveway. We realized it was a gopher snake, at least eight-feet long. We raced back and grabbed it with all four hands, but it outsmarted us. The snake wrapped itself up tightly in the very dense bushes next to the driveway, hissing loudly all the while. That scared us, and we kept looking at its tail to make sure there were no rattles. Gopher snakes and rattlers can look a lot alike. As a matter of fact, sometimes a gopher snake will hit its tail against leaves to imitate the sound of a rattle, in hopes of scaring away predators. The hissing worked pretty well on us. Each time we gave an inch, the snake retreated further into the bushes, and we realized we would never get it out without hacking the bushes. So we let him go. That was the longest snake I've ever seen outside a zoo.
Once on a scouting trip, I was running down a trail in the Angeles Forest and noticed that my next step was going to land on a rattlesnake sunning itself in the middle of the trail. Mid-stride, I kept my front foot stretched out as far as I could, and somehow my momentum flew me over the snake. I kept running and never looked back.
Over the years, I would see rattlesnakes while on horseback and stayed out of their way. When Liz and I were engaged to be married, we participated in Engaged Encounter through our church, at a retreat center way up in the hills of Santa Barbara. On a break, we walked down the long and remote driveway. On the way back up, Liz was a few steps in front of me, head in the clouds. Suddenly, I yelled, "Stop, back up!" Thankfully, she did, and the five-foot-long rattlesnake, the color of asphalt, made the rest of its way across the road, directly in front of her.
When we moved to our current home, seventeen years ago, our relationship with snakes changed quite a lot. Our property backs up to what is known around here as the Ahmanson Ranch, 15,000 acres of open space that is now a state park.
We get lots of unusual visitors, raccoons, skunks, possums, deer and even a mountain lion, though that was years ago. Yesterday, our twenty-two-year-old son was up early and saw six coyotes standing together on the hillside, behind our house. He hopped the fence, and they dispersed. Not so with rattlesnakes, they tend to work their way into and settle in our yard, hiding under rocks or in the many bushes, because there are lots of little critters here to attract their attention.
A couple weeks ago, our gardener Jared came into my office and said he'd caught a pretty big rattlesnake. Having placed it in a large trashcan, Jared used a snake grabber to lift it up so we could take a good look to determine if it was the same one we caught two weeks ago. You see, we don't like to kill them, and Liz has a theory that they all eventually find their way back home. After close examination, we decided it wasn't the same, as the pattern and rattles were slightly different.
My assistants, Eileen and Caleb, came out to have a closer look, and I snapped this photo. I'd like to say that Eileen was standing close to it, but she's really about three or four feet back from the snake. Eileen is quite an adventurer herself, having just come back from vacation in the Dominican Republic, the day after Hurricane Irma blasted by.
So what do we do with all these snakes? If you figure about three each year, and it's more than that, we've caught over fifty rattlesnakes over the last seventeen years.
We put them in a small metal trashcan that is "secured" with a tight lid. That can be a bit tricky, as some don't want to cooperate. But once the lid is on, they quiet down. Then, we seatbelt the trashcan into the backseat of my SUV. Safety first, you know!
Finally, we relocate them to what we call Rattle Snake Alley, which is really one of several open spaces miles away. Once there, I tip the can on its side, kick off the lid, and away they go. I'm pretty sure the snakes like that, and so do we. They're far away from our house, and they're free to live out their life doing whatever snakes do...somewhere else.
Just another day in our backyard. For a video of a recent relocation, click this link
and scroll to the bottom of the page.