camping with copperheads

dirtgirl(So. Illinois)July 23, 2007

My husband and I have been going to a certain camping spot in the Shawnee National Forest for over 14 years and although we know there are several different kinds of poisonous snakes in the area, we have only actually encountered them twice while hiking, and one of those times the snake in question had just been wantonly destroyed by another typical do-gooder. I find them to be beautiful and interesting creatures, and since I rarely get a chance to observe them in the wild, I have always wished for more opportunities to come across them. Well, I got a rather unexpected chance over the weekend.

We had set up camp Friday evening, and after I got the fire going and the lantern lit, I decided to head up to the privy and then stop by the hand pump for a bucket of water for camp. My husband was either getting dinner started or dragging bedding out of the truck...anyway, I was walking toward the picnic table and needed to shift the container of water in my hands so I put my mag-lite in my mouth to free them up. There was a dark area of shadow just behind the table legs that the fire was not illuminating and right as I took a step forward, the beam from my light swung across the back end of a snake. I stopped moving and removed the light from my mouth and when I got the full light on the creature I realized that had I taken another step I would have very likely crushed a copperhead with my flipflop. I eased back a step and reached out to set down the water, and then called out to my husband to come see what I'd just found. I thought a bit about what had just happened and realized that I was not at all frightened, just surprised and excited. Maybe that all would have changed had I taken the extra step? When my husband came around the table and realized this was not just another one of my animal pranks, and that we did indeed have a copperhead in camp, he was not nearly as enthusiastic as I was, but kept going on about how I'd just saved his life. Really? And I was the foolish one in sandals. At any rate, now that we had had our introductions, I was really wishing I had better light to see it by, couldn't really appreciate the colors or anything in the half-light. I was struck by how confused it acted... it did not really ever act defensively, but seemed like it did not have any clear idea of where it should be going. Maybe it was getting all kinds of heat signatures and visuals with the fire and all. we did not pester or try to provoke the snake in any way, but just stood back a bit and watched it. I did know that it was not safe for the snake (or for us either)to be hanging around a human camp with four size 10 feet stomping about, so I eventually rummaged around and found a long enough branch to coax it back off into the underbrush. The snake was a small one, maybe a 2 footer, but I did not want to become one of the statistical people who get bitten while trying to Steve Irwin a poisonous snake. And then of course once the snake was out of sight, the real panic began on the part of my husband. It's like the herd of antelope that are totally calm and collected as long as they have the lion in sight. He paced the perimeter for a half hour, looking, listening for any rustle that might indicate the return of the killer. And although in times past I have had to keep after him to fully close the zipper on the tent to keep out the skeeters, after the snake incident I think he would have tried welding the taffeta shut if he thought it would have worked. He did mention sleeping in the truck, and at that point I thought I might have to smack him with a tent stake to ding some sense into him. I pointed out that for all the times we have been coming here, this was the first time in 15 years that this had happened and although I'd never expected to have a snake come into a camp with so much activity going on, we were in the snake's yard, not the other way around. And that antivenin was only 30 minutes away. Which didn't help, because he is also terrified of needles.

So, anyway...I had a surprising but highly interesting experience over the weekend, learned the easy way that flipflops might not be proper attire in our Shawnee camps, and got to observe a marvelous creature without any raving lunatics waving machetes or hoes and wanting to kill it.

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A suggestion. If you can get your husband to return. This depends on the type of tent. Use a clip from a dog chain to hold the flaps of the tent closed at the bottom. My spaniel liked to go camping and to keep her in the tent I used this method. I had a tent that had zippers down and cross the bottom with zipper pulls attached. If you do have this type of tent and he is still worried you can put a sock in the gap. It also keeps mice out.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 9:22PM
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Great story! Shawnee National Forest is an outstanding place to see venomous snakes. I try to go there once every spring and fall (didn't make it there this spring) to observe the snakes during peak den emergence and convergence.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2007 at 10:37PM
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dirtgirl(So. Illinois)

great idea, there, maifleur. I'm sure the sock idea would also reassure some frayed nerves. Actually I have had nothing but praise for our tent, a four-man Eureka! model. The only thing to ever get in other than some Canadian mosquitoes were those tiny, tiny , TINY ants at Mesa Verde.
Unfortunately, over the years my husband has drifted away a bit from our shared love of "roughing it", and I fear he will in time become another of the RV/camper crowd. I may have to leave him.:)

Wayne mo, I bet you know a thing or two about the road at LaRue/Pine Hills. Or is it Union CO. Conservation Area? I have already accepted the fact that if I ever make it there to watch the spring/fall migrations it will likely be by myself...the best pair of snake chaps in the world wouldn't get my hub to go.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2007 at 6:27AM
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