Each year about this time I write a column on poisonous snakes.
But not Ohio poisonous snakes this time. We have three, the timber rattler, northern copperhead, and masasaugua or swamp rattler, but all three are extremely rare, so rare that they're now on the endangered species list.
Timber rattlers and copperheads are now restricted to remnant populations in a very few southern and southeastern counties, and swamp rattlers are found (rarely) in such places as Killdeer Plains and Willard wildlife areas.
Your chances of being bitten by any of the three are about the same as being hit by lightning, so hardly anyone even thinks of them or looks for them. But summer is travel time, and many Huron County outdoorsmen head for Florida and a chance at a 10-pound bass, or do the same in Georgia, Alabama, and elsewhere. Or decide to go hiking in Wyoming or New Mexico, or trout fishing in Colorado, or whatever. All of those places, and plenty more have poisonous snakes, sometimes lots of them. And since, living in Ohio, you're not oriented to the danger, you could easily get bitten.
One of the worst places in the U.S. for poisonous snakes is Florida. Not only does it have eastern diamondbacks and other rattlers, it has water moccasins and the rare coral snake. A friend of mine lives in a gated community there, and he and his wife like to walk along the roads in evening times. "We see three or four rattlers a week." he said, "right along the road, and we're not looking for them. Usually they come out of the ditches or palmetto thickets. Snakes love palmettos."
He's right about that. Palmettos mixed with other brush and low trees are natural havens for mice and other rodents, and therefore natural havens for snakes. I don't bull my way through such places for any reason, and if you decide to, whether hunting or seeking a fishing spot in any southern state at least be watchful.
The same holds true for such states as Texas. Texas has so many rattlers that they hold annual roundups in some places, and the biggest western diamondback I ever saw was on a Texas ranch. It was pushing seven feet long and was as big around as my arm. I've seen more rattlers in North Dakota and other western states, so if you're out there trout fishing or shooting prairie dogs, keep a careful watch for them.
What should you do if heading into snake country? One really good investment is a pair of snake boots. Field & Stream Magazine recently tested a number of such boots and decided that the absolute best of the lot was Rocky Longbeard boots from Rocky Boots. The boots are expensive at $180 a pair, but the test showed them good for hiking, cool and comfortable, and impervious to snake bites. Check them out at Rockyboots.com.
Another good choice was Chippewa Style 23913, a boot good for horsebacking or hiking. These were $190 a pair and are available from Chippewaboots.com. A third choice at $130 was the Redhead Bayou Zipper (basspro.com), an easy on, easy off boot that was lightweight and comfortable.
If these are too expensive or too much trouble, at least avoid the palmettos, keep away from rocky areas where snakes like to sun, and be very careful in fallen timber and brush. If you see them first, no problem. If not, big problem.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. n Readers interested in Ohio's first outdoorsmen might enjoy a new novel by Dick Martin called Flying Hawk. The book is a window into the world of a small native American tribe living along the Sandusky River before the coming of the white man. It tells how they hunted and fished, gathered wild foods, and planted their gardens. The tribe lived a good life until a larger group of warlike Indians moved in along Lake Erie and began harassing them and killing their people. How do you fight a tribe whose warriors outnumber yours 2-3 to 1? Did they win or lose? For a chapter excerpt, see Dick-Martin.com. The book can be ordered from Amazon.com. or Barnes & Noble.com, and also ordered from Barnes & Noble book stores.
Outdoor enthusiasts can now show their support for Ohio State Parks with a colorful new license plate designed to appeal to birders, campers, picnickers, and hikers. Sales of the new plate, featuring a streamside tree and picnic table, will bolster and expand naturalist programs and nature centers throughout the 74 park system. The new plate is now available on the Internet at OPLATES.com, by calling toll-free (888) PLATES, or at any deputy registrar's office.
The Ohio Huskie Muskie Club will hold its 37th annual open summer contest at Piedmont Lake on July 14 and 15. Registration and headquarters will be at a large tent set up in the Piedmont Marina area with registration from 5 to 8 p.m. July 13. Entry fee and registration donations will be $15, and the event, as always, is open to the public. Piedmont has a 10 hp motor restriction, and all boating safety equipment is required.