Many young boys (and girls) have gone into the woods to catch a snake and turn it into a pet. This is often how a love of snakes and other reptiles develops. For many of us age doesn’t change our desire to be out among nature, looking for snakes as we go. But the distance we travel to find them grows considerably and so does the risk. In this article we will be discussing outdoor safety.
At this point you might be asking if I’m qualified to speak on outdoor safety. I believe I am based on the following:
- I’ve hunted, fished and camped since I was 5 years old
- Been a member of a wilderness Search and Rescue Team
- Spent several summers in the woods fighting wildfires
- Spent a fair amount of time working timber sales, surveys, and habitat restoration projects, all in the woods
Know where you are going and let someone else know too
Don’t just hop in your car and start driving. Plan your trip a head of time. Know the area you’ll be in and the times you plan to be there. Then let someone else know as well. I don’t mean your Facebook friends (though that’s not a bad idea) but rather someone you know in person who lives near you. Give them the following information:
- The general vicinity marked out on a map showing where you will be. You can use Google Maps for this
- The expected arrival and departure times from the area. If you are crossing timezones account for that as well
- Who you will be there with and their contact information
- Make, model, year and color of the vehicle you will be driving
That might seem like a lot of information to give someone but if anything happens it will give the search teams a lot better chance at finding you.
Take the proper equipment
For the sake of this article we will assume you’re only going to be chasing reptiles for a single day. If in fact you are going to go on a multi-day herping expedition you’ll need to account for that as well. I’ll break this into 3 parts. Items you must have, items you should have, and items it would be nice to have.
Items you must have
- Drinking water. Take more than you think you need
- First aid kit. This could save your life. And be sure you know how to use it
- Appropriate footwear. Count on getting blisters if you don’t
- Food to snack on. Like water take more than you think you will need
- A change of clothes. You never know when you’ll fall in a creek or have some other mishap that warm dry clothes are needed to recover from
- Florescent flagging. This is a biodegradable tape you tie to brush and trees to help mark your way. Even if you don’t use it, carry it
- A decent pocket knife
- Water proof matches. No, these aren’t meant to start a campfire. A signal fire if need be, yes, but not a campfire. Remember, scrape the ground down to the bare ground at least 10 feet in all directs from where you start a signal fire. You want to be found not burn down the entire forest and be hit up for a $500,000 suppression bill
- Flashlight with spare batteries and bulbs. Assume you’ll be stuck out there after dark
Photo credit: Leppre
Items you should have
- Map and compass. You’ll need to know how to use both before you bother with them so learn and then practice. Also, avoid maps you get at tourist centers. Those are generally very generic. Instead go and speak to your local BLM, Forest Service, or State Forest y field offices. You can find thier contact information in the phone book. You want a map that really shows the features of the area you will be in and those are good places to get them
- A reptile field guide for animals found in the area you will be working in. I’d suggest a field guide that covers all flora and fauna but that might be a little bit too much
- Toilet paper and baby wipes. Believe it or not wiping with leaves and bark isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds
- Hand wipes. If you have to use the toilet paper and baby wipes you’ll thank me for reminding you to bring these. Not to mention when you catch a snake it may well poop and pee on you
- Some parachute cord. Great for lashing things together if you need to make a shelter or splint a broken leg
- Insect repellant. Don’t care what anyone says nothing works as well as DEET. Don’t find out the hard way that I’m right and the guy at your local Earth Love store didn’t have a clue. Being eating alive by bugs will ruin your day faster than almost anything else
Items it would be nice to have
You’ll probably notice I left a cell phone off the list. When you get into the woods you often won’t have service.
Practice before you go
Going out in the woods is not a joke. People die because they aren’t prepared. They get injured, or lost. So spend a few weeks before it’s time to go looking for herps getting yourself ready. Not only could it save you at the extreme it will make the trip a lot more pleasurable if you aren’t spending the entire day nursing wounds, trying to figure out where you are and parched because you don’t have enough water.
Other than that have a great time catching snakes in the wild and when you get some pictures we’d love to see them over on our Facebook page
Note: A reader from Facebook mentioned that in Arizona you must possess a hunting license in order to capture reptiles. I was not aware of this requirement and that’s a good reason to check the laws of the state you will be field herping in. Here is a link to the applicable regulations regarding this in the state of Arizona. Notice how even taking pictures of wildlife for commercial purposes is regulated?