SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Now that the summer months have arrived, many individuals are eager to enjoy the Utah outdoors. Fishing, camping, and hiking are just some of the popular outdoor activities for summer fun. For those taking in the higher-elevated scenic activities, you’re pretty likely to encounter a rattlesnake.

There are five rattlesnake species that live in Utah, the most common of which is the Great Basin rattlesnake. This is the time of year when Utah rattlesnakes are on the move, looking for water and rodents after emerging from their dens following a long winter. Rattlesnakes are most active during the summer at dawn and dusk. Snakes mainly eat rodents, birds and other reptiles.

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According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, rattlesnakes are protected under Utah law and it is illegal to harass or kill one. The only exception to this is if you are threatened and defending yourself; otherwise, it is a class B misdemeanor to kill a rattlesnake. They are an important part of Utah’s ecosystem and help keep away rodents.

Depending on your location, chances are you’ll see a rattlesnake while campinfg or hiking this summer. While coming within a close distance of a rattlesnake could be a scary situation believe it or not snake bites are quite rare. Most people who are bitten by rattlesnakes are harassing or attempting to illegally kill the snake. Like most animals, rattlesnakes fear humans and will do anything they can to avoid us. 

On the contrast, if a rattlesnake feels threatened DWR Native Species Coordinator Drew Dittmer said “the snake will often strike to protect itself. Just don’t approach it. Give it plenty of space, and leave it alone. Respect the snake, and you will be safe.”

If you encounter a rattlesnake, DWR advises the following:

  • Remain calm and do not panic. Stay at least 5 feet from the snake. Make sure to give it plenty of space.
  • Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you. 
  • Do not throw anything at the snake, like rocks or sticks. Rattlesnakes may respond to this by moving toward the person doing the throwing, rather than away from them.
  • Alert other people to the snake’s location. Advise them to use caution and to respect the snake. Keep children and pets away from the area.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when hiking or camping. Allowing your dog to roam around increases the chance the dog will find a snake and get bitten.
  • If you hear a rattle, don’t jump or panic. Try to locate where the sound is coming from before trying to move, so you don’t step closer to the snake or on top of it.

Hiking, or camp sites aren’t the only places you may encounter a rattlesnake. Depending where you live, it’s not unlikely to find the reptile in your own backyard.

DWR says aside from building a fence that rattlesnakes can’t penetrate, here are some other useful tips to help keep rattlesnakes out of your yard:

  • Reduce the number of places that provide snakes with shelter. Brush, wood, rock and junk piles are all things you should eliminate from your yard.
  • Control rodent populations. Bird feeders and water are two of the main items that draw rodents to yards, which in turn can attract snakes. 
  • Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gophersnakes. Having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes.

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If you’re not 100% certain the snake you’ve encountered is the rattlesnake or can’t identify it from a distance, DWR advises to leave it alone and treat it as if it were venomous. 

Tracy Smith
Curtis Booker, joined the ABC4 family in January of 2019 as a Digital Content Producer. In May of 2019, he transitioned into learning the inner workings of becoming a news producer assisting with various shows. Curtis most recently rejoined the Digital team as a multi-media journalist in February of 2020.