What to Do If Bitten By Rattlesnake: How to Survive

Plenty of people enjoy spending time outdoors – no matter whether is for hiking, camping or bird watching (need some birding binoculars?), it’s a great chance to unwind and relax. However, accidents in nature happen all the time – so, have you ever wondered what to do if bitten by a rattlesnake?

While it’s true that plenty of animals can sting or bite you, a rattlesnake bite isn’t something to be taken lightheartedly. But by knowing what to do – and especially what not to do! – in a case like that is something every outdoor lover should know. In fact, it might even help save a life someday!

That’s why we’ve decided to teach you how to act in an event like that, even if you’re not able to get to a hospital straight away. What’s even more, we’ve included tips on how to avoid all snakes while still enjoying your favorite outdoor activities. Keep reading on to learn more!

How to Avoid Snakes

As the best method to treat something is prevention, here are a few ways you can try to avoid snakes.

Don’t Go Looking For Snakes!

You or your friends may be interested in snakes. Unless you are a trained expert it is unwise to go looking for snakes. Also, just because you see people handling snakes on television doesn’t mean that you should too. After all, people do die every year from snake bites and most often it is people who actively search for and handle snakes, which end up in this predicament. Do not attempt to pick up a snake, kick at a snake or chase a snake.


Even trying to kill a snake is dangerous as it can easily bite you. Remember that the snake can twist its head around and lunge at you. Some snakes can even spit venom from far away. This is not a concern with rattlesnakes though.

Don’t Go Into the Wilderness Alone

It is always best to have someone go with you when you go out bird watching, hiking, or camping. That way there will be someone who can go for help in an emergency. If one of you is bitten by a rattlesnake the other person can get help. If you are on your own you have no choice but to go for help yourself.

If you are out hiking, stay with your group on clear paths that are not overgrown with bushes, weeds or grasses. Don’t wander away from your group, or if you have to walk through thick bush or grass, use a stick to prod the bushes and grasses ahead of you.

Be Careful Where You Walk

Rattlesnakes are found in all kinds of habitats, not just rocky areas. They also live in the prairie, forests, marshes, and desert. Avoid walking through long grass. Snakes often slither through tall grass and bushy areas. They hide and search for prey in these areas.

Rattlesnake in the Grass

When walking in rocky areas, do not step between the rocks. Stand on the rocks. Snakes live under and between rocks. Check before sitting down on a rock or log.

Use Your Senses

Watch where you are walking! Walk on proper trails where you can see what lies ahead of you. Rattlesnake bites often happen when people accidentally stand on them. Listen for rattling sounds. The rattlesnake makes a rattling sound using its tail. This is meant as a warning.

Be Observant!

If you see movement or hear a rattling sound, then there could be a snake nearby. Rattlesnakes make a rattle so listen for that. Don’t look for the snake; rather move away as quickly and as far as possible. If you see a dead snake, stay away! Many snakes pretend to be dead. Don’t take a chance.

If you are swimming, don’t grab for sticks or branches, and don’t wade through reeds to enter and leave the water. Rattlesnakes can swim and you can accidentally grab a snake. If you are camping, be extra careful as you will be in the woods at night which is when snakes are most active. Snakes are also most active in summer as they are cold-blooded animals that need warm temperatures to be active.

Be Careful When Exploring

Be careful exploring caves or digging around in brush piles. These are all places where snakes live. Once again, remember snakes like to hide. Rattlesnakes in particular huddle in groups in such places in winter. These dens can contain many individuals.

Rattle Snake in a Hole

Don’t stick your hands and arms into crevasses. Snakes like to hide and nest in holes and cavities, like hollow logs or holes in trees. They are also often found where there are a lot of rocks, so be aware of your surroundings. If you find a snakeskin, don’t panic, but don’t explore further in that area. Rather move away. The skin could mean that a snake is nearby.

Take Care When Camping

Before setting up camp ask the park ranger or authorities at the camp if they have had a lot of problems with snakes. They can also tell you what species of snake are found there. If you are not sure, ask which of these snakes are venomous and where they have most often been seen.

Don’t camp next to a log, heavy brush pile, in tall grass, or near rocky areas. Keep your shoes and boots inside the tent and keep the tent zipped up, even during the day. Shake out your sleeping bag. That way you won’t get a nasty surprise at night.

Snakes can climb trees, so be aware of your surroundings at all times. Snakes occur in water, so again be watchful. Stay away from reedy edges of marshes and swamps where snakes are more likely to be living. Snakes often prey on frogs and toads that live in reedy marshy edges of the water.

Nighttime Is More Dangerous

Many snakes are also active mainly at night so be careful at night if you are camping. At night use a flashlight or torch so that you can see where you are going. This can help you avoid standing on a snake in the dark.

Rattlesnakes at Night

Don’t leave the tent unzipped at night as a snake could slither in while you are sleeping. Take chairs with to use if you are sitting outside at night. Don’t sit on rocks or logs or on the ground. If you are making a fire at night be careful when you collect firewood. Collect firewood before it gets dark and be careful.

Be careful in winter on blacktop roads at night. Snakes like to come out and rest on the surface at night. This happens often, so walk down the center of the road, not on the edges.

Dress Appropriately

When hiking or camping, wear shoes not sandals. Hiking boots are even better, especially if they go up to your knees. Wear long pants, not shorts. Heavy material is a more effective protection against a snake bite, so jeans are good. Aside from snakes, you want to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes anyway.

Educate Your Kids!

Snake venom is particularly deadly for children. Teach them to not go into long grass, caves, or to lift rocks, fallen logs or other debris. Kids are curious and may not understand the dangers. Teach children to respect snakes and other animals.

What to Do If You Are Bitten

The best thing to do is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible – at the hospital, they can give you anti-venom and treat your symptoms. If you can get a cell signal, call ahead to the hospital so they can be prepared. The sooner the victim is treated the better.

Call for a Help

However, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of reaching a hospital in time, which is why we will tell you how to treat a rattlesnake bite before you can get yourself or your friend to the hospital.

  1. Move as far away from the snake as possible. Trying to kill the snake is a bad idea because you could get bitten again. Try to notice what the snake looks like. What color is it? What markings or patterns does it have? Take a photo if you can, but don’t risk more injury trying to do this.
  2. Keep calm, keep the victim calm. The more anxious the person, the faster the heart will beat and the faster the venom will move around the body.
  3. Take the person to the hospital immediately!

To make sure you are prepared for this experience, below we listed the main symptoms someone would experience from a rattlesnake bite:

  • Lightheartedness
  • A feeling of weakness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heavy salivating
  • Numbness in the face or limbs
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty breathing

The person may go into shock, signs include: becoming very pale, sweating, dizziness, nausea, fast breathing and rapid heart rate. If the person goes into shock, lay them on their back and raise their legs slightly. Wrap clothing or blankets around the victim to keep them warm.

Woman is Laying Down

You may need to perform CPR if the person stops breathing. Remember the ABC:Check airway, breathing, and circulation.

Delayed Getting to hospital?

This is what you can do if you can’t get to a hospital straight away:

  • Keep the wound below the level of the heart, so if bitten on the arm, keep the arm lowered so that venom moves more slowly to the heart.
  • Reassure the victim again and tell them to try to slow their breathing and remain calm.
  • Tell the victim to take slow deep breaths; this will slow the breathing and heart rate. Tell the victim that everything is going to be okay and that very few people die from snakebites.
  • The wound will swell, so to stop blood flow being cut off, remove any necklaces, rings, watches, or clothes. If blood flow is cut off for too long, cells and tissue die and then gangrene sets in. This means the tissue rots which can result in loss of the limb.
  • Sit or lay the person down on the ground as if they remain standing they will probably pass out and could further hurt themselves.
  • Don’t try to stop the bleeding for the first 15 to 30 seconds to allow some of the venom to flow out of the wound.

How to Bandage the Wound

The wound needs to be bandaged in a specific way. Don’t have a bandage? Use a shirt or other piece of reasonably clean cloth. Use a clean bandage and leave the wound unwashed. This way the doctors can test the venom to see which anti-venom to use.

Place the bandage two to three inches above the actual bite to try to slow the movement of the venom. Don’t place the bandage directly over the bite as the tissue may swell and the bandage will cut off circulation.

Bandage Rolls

Don’t make the bandage too tight. You want to slow but not cut off the circulation. If bitten on a limb, a splint or sling can be made to keep the limb immobile. Again you want to slow the rate at which venom circulates through the body.

How to Make a Sling or Splint

You make a sling (for the arm), or splint (for the leg) to keep the person from moving the bitten limb too much. You want the person to keep still, and by keeping the bitten area still it slows the movement of the venom.

If bitten on the arm:

To make a sling cut out a triangular piece of cloth. You can use a towel, blanket, or sheets. You can even cut up clothing if you have to. Wrap the material around the arm which should be bent at the elbow. Tie the two ends of the cloth at the shoulder. The hand can stick out at the bottom of the sling.

If bitten on the leg:

You need to find something to use to support (splint) the limb. You can use rolled-up paper, a sturdy stick, or even rolled-up clothing. Use a bandage or use something like a bandage to tie the support to the leg.

Emergency Leg Splint

Image credit: inchsurvival.com

If you don’t have bandages you can use tape, or a belt, or even strips of cloth. The idea is to keep the limb as still as possible.

Venomous or Not

It is useful to know if the snake that bit you is venomous or not.

  • Venomous snakes tend to leave 1 to 2 puncture wounds, but even if you think it may not be venomous, go to the hospital.
  • Don’t be fooled by the size! Small-sized venomous snakes can be just as deadly.
  • All rattlesnakes are venomous! Some rattlesnakes are more dangerous than others.

Another way you can tell if a snake is venomous is if the victim develops symptoms and if the bite area swells and changes color.

The chance of survival is actually very good if you can receive medical care quickly, preferably within 30 minutes of being bitten.

Dying from rattlesnake bites is not common especially if anti-venom is given within 2 hours of the bite, but why take the risk? Children and people with weak immune systems have a worse prognosis than healthy people.

What Not To Do

In the past, people have taken some of the following actions which we now know are actually not useful and may actually be harmful.

  • Cut the wound – You can cause the wound to become infected if you use a dirty knife, and it doesn’t remove much venom to do this.
  • Suck the poison out with your mouth – This doesn’t work and you can end up envenoming yourself.
  • Apply a tourniquet – You can end up cutting off the circulation to such an extent that the tissue dies, gangrene sets in and the limb has to be amputated.
  • Raise the bitten limb above the heart – This will speed the flow of venom to the heart and then to the rest of the body.
  • Apply ice or wash with water– Ice can slow circulation but this can cause more tissue damage because of reduced blood flow.
  • Pee on the bite – This is totally ineffective in treating snakebite; it is just an old wives tale.
  • Eat or drink – You want to keep the person’s metabolism low to reduce the spread and absorption of the poison into the system.

What You Have Learnt

Avoid snakes using the information we have taught you. If bitten, seek emergency treatment as quickly as you can. Take the victim to the hospital. If you can’t seek help immediately, remove tight clothing and bandage loosely. Watch for signs of shock and remember to reassure the victim and calm them down.

By following our advice you can feel safe when hiking or camping. Do you know any other ways to avoid coming into contact with snakes? Let us know.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.