Most rattlesnakes are out of their dens by mid-May, roaming the wild and occasionally alarming humans. The fear of snakes ranks near the top of most common phobia lists, but do people in eastern states need to be worried about serpentine encounters as much as those in western and southern states?
Rattlesnakes are considered threatened or endangered in certain states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This particular venomous creature is vulnerable to loss of habitat and being run over by vehicles. Once the population is depressed, it takes the population a long time to recover because of slow reproduction rates. It takes females the first seven to nine years of their 30-year life to reach sexual maturity. They will then only have a litter every three to five years, and only one baby from each litter will likely survive to reach maturity.
Still, snakes are surviving in eastern snakes and whether you should be truly concerned about them while hiking, hunting, or working in your yard depends largely on how often you will be in areas known for snakes. Your best bet is to wear snake gaiters or snake boots while recreating or working in snake habitat. Rattlesnakes are unlikely to bite unless provoked — usually by a young person bitten on the hand because they attempted to pick it up. Children need to realize if you poke at it long enough, even the most docile snake of any species is going to strike. Also, if you startle a snake by accidentally stepping on it, or perhaps moving a rock or piece of wood not knowing a snake is under there, that's when bites can occur, too.
If you happen to get bit, do not cut or suck the wound or use a tourniquet to isolate the venom. Go directly to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Not all hospitals carry anti-venom, so it’s a good idea to call ahead. Some victims might need to be hospitalized. Although a rattlesnake bite can be very painful and expensive (anti-venom doesn't come cheap), it's not common enough to avoid hiking or fishing or otherwise having fun in the woods on a summer’s afternoon. Just be prepared with the right snake bite protection, use common sense, and be on the look-out so you can avoid any rattlers that are also taking advantage of a sunny summer day.