RATTLESNAKE HUNTING IN THE PA WILDS
Updated: Jul 15, 2018
Article and Photos by: Beau Martonik
If you are like me, summertime in Appalachia is filled with monitoring trail cameras, training for the upcoming season, scouring over maps, testing my gear and… weddings… A few years ago, I was introduced to the world of snake hunting through a good friend of mine. My initial reaction was thinking he was crazy and I had no interest in taking part in it. With some reluctance, I decided to apply for a Pennsylvania venomous snake permit in 2015. Prior to being issued a permit, I started reading up on rattlesnakes specifically in Pennsylvania and trying to understand their behaviors like I would with deer. Through this process, I learned that the rattlesnake population is very stable in the majority of the densely forested 2 million acres of public land in Northern Pennsylvania. In addition, the meat is delicious to eat and the skin looks beautiful tanned.
A Pennsylvania venomous snake permit allows for you to take 1 male snake of at least 42” in length in a season that usually runs from the second Saturday in June until July 31st. Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. Andy Steger, a good friend of mine who went with me for the first time, was able to explain and show me that timber rattlesnakes aren’t these beasts that are just looking to bite people. In reality, they just want to stay out of your way and not be bothered. The first year that I obtained a permit, I was able to handle a few snakes but never ended up filling my tag.
It took me until this year to re-apply for a venomous snake permit again. This time I was certain that I wanted to kill a timber rattlesnake and process, skin and cook it myself. Another friend of mine, Alex Geitner offered to take me out to an area that he consistently sees large snakes. The area is exactly what you would picture when you think of the Appalachian Mountains. The steep mountains in the remote PA Wilds are covered by dense forests, rock outcroppings and logging cuts. In my limited experience snake hunting, I’ve found most of them in rocky areas in the sun or on logging roads in the shade when it gets too hot out. Another hot spot for timber rattlesnakes tends to be on big power lines which usually have rocks scattered throughout. I want to restate that I am not an “experienced” snake hunter by any sense of the imagination, but I have tried to learn as much about them as possible over the last few years.
Throughout the day of snake hunting, me and Alex scoured over the usual hot spots with no luck in finding a snake. While searching for snakes, we were able to watch a fawn and a hen with 10 poults come out onto the logging road. Eventually as we were nearing the end of our day, I spotted a giant yellow phase rattle snake lying there on the trail. We approached the snake with caution before I was able to grab him with my tongs. The snake wasn’t the least bit aggressive, but he was strong and just wanted to get away. Once he settled down, we were able to count the subcaudal scales to determine if it was a male. The subcaudal scales run from the vent until the beginning of the rattles and need to have at least 21 to be a male. This particular snake had 22 subcaudal scales and taped out at 52” making this a legal snake to put in the feed sack and fill my tag.
Celebratory beers were shared while I gutted the snake and pulled the meat from the skin. Under the bright fluorescent lights in my Dad’s barn, I fleshed the skin to prepare to place it in the mason jar filled with a glycerin and alcohol solution. After a week, I will pull it out and pin it to a board to dry. The meat was placed in a large bowl filled with salt water over night, before putting it in a large Ziploc bag with olive oil and Cajun seasoning. I’m not much of a cook, so I did as I always do when cooking meat and threw it on the grill at camp. We slightly overcooked the meat, but it still tasted great in my opinion! The snake meat fed an entire bachelor party and was enjoyed by all. I can’t say that I am completely obsessed with snake hunting now, but I think if you’ve ever considered it, don’t be afraid to give it a try in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Where to find the permit application:
Snake Tongs - http://www.bigappleherp.com/Professional-Series-Tongs
Tube – The fluorescent light tube guard is used to capture the snake’s head and keep him away from being able to strike while counting the subcaudal scales. - https://www.lowes.com/pd/Metalux-Clear-Bulb-Guard/50061741
Skinning/Gutting Knife – Havalon – Piranta Bolt – https://www.havalon.com/piranta-bolt-pack-includes