Are you going to be camping in rattlesnake country soon? If so, know that you don’t need to be fearful of those nasty little serpents! There’s several ways to keep rattlesnakes away from your campsite, entering your tent or taking a nap in your shoes or camping gear outside. In this article, we’ll share some great rattlesnake deterrents that will help you enjoy your camping adventure better without fear or apprehensions.
Rattlesnakes are very much a part of the environment. All snakes have a purpose and are necessary to complete the circle of life. But, that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate sharing a small space where we set up camp.
So, I put together this guide to share some of the best ways to keep rattlesnakes away from your campsite in the wild.
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How to Keep Rattlesnakes AWAY from Your Campsite (and OUT of your Tent)!
Before we check out how to snake proof your campsite, let’s first learn a little about Rattlesnakes, where they live, habitats, behavior, food and anything else to be aware of before setting up camp.
Where are rattlesnakes located?
It’s important to know the different rattlesnake species according to geographical and climate regions of the U.S. While Alaska and Hawaii don’t have rattlesnakes, there are plenty of other states that do.
The typical southwestern rattlesnake prefers warm dry regions like Joshua Tree National Park or Death Valley National Park. But also, the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Big 5, including Moab, are known habitats for the desert region rattlesnakes.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, rattlesnakes live only in the Americas. There are 36 rattlesnake species, 13 of which are present in Arizona (below). That’s the most species in any state. The rattlesnakes most commonly seen in Arizona are the Mojave, black-tailed and Western diamondback species.
- Trans-Pecos Copperhead
- Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Mojave Desert Sidewinder
- Sonoran Desert Sidewinder
- Arizona Black Rattlesnake
- Banded Rock Rattlesnake
- Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
- Eastern Black-tailed Rattlesnake
- Twin-spotted Rattlesnake
- Mojave Rattlesnake
- Tiger Rattlesnake
- Prairie Rattlesnake
- New Mexico Ridgenose Rattlesnake
- Arizona Ridgenose Rattlesnake
- Sonoran Coralsnake
- Desert Massasauga
Where are Rattlesnake habitats?
Rattlesnakes live where they can find their live meals. Since snakes aren’t capable of digging holes, rattlesnakes especially will seek vacant small wildlife burrows, creases in tree branches, rock gardens and caves.
In fact, while we were at Devil’s Tower National Monument, there are signs posted at Prairie Dog Town warning visitors not to stick their hands into the burrows because Rattlesnakes may be in there as well. This explains perhaps why dogs are not permitted on hiking trails there either.
In the state of Utah, rocky, high-elevation slopes are where you will most likely encounter a rattlesnake. Ironically though, there, a rattler’s camouflage helps it to blend into its surroundings, so you may pass by a rattlesnake and not even be aware of it.
Rattlesnakes also choose high hillsides that have lots of sun exposure. So, you need to be careful where you put your hands when climbing, reaching or even sitting.
But also, you may encounter rattlesnakes near wooded areas, brush or wood piles, stone walls or boulders, and near rocky streams. They are known to spend the winter coiled under logs, wood and rock piles as well.
In other words, rattlesnakes can be found anywhere according to their regional habits.
What do Rattlesnakes eat?
Rattlesnakes are like all other snakes. They love to dine on live prey such as moles, mice and rats, frogs and toads, birds and even fish. Interesting to note, they can detect their prey’s body heat with heat sensors on their faces.
So, if you’re camping in high concentration of small rodents or smaller wildlife, know that Rattlesnakes may be knocking on their restaurant door.
Be aware should you want to pitch your tent near a lake, pond or stream as that is the snake version of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
What does snake poop look like?
You’re probably wondering why you would need to know what snake poop looks like (or maybe not?). However, if you know what snake skat looks like and you see it before setting up camp, you’ll think twice before pounding in your first tent stake or putting out your RV’s steps.
Pest Control Hacks states, “snake scat identification is simpler than distinguishing poops of rodents. Snake droppings have a cord-like tubular shape. They can be either of even shape or have an irregular surface. The scat of most snakes is dark but has lighter streaks of urine.”
But, snake scat may also contain bones, hair, scales, and other indigestible materials leftover from meals.
So, seeing fresh snake poop is a good indicator you may want to camp elsewhere.
Curiosity got the best of you? Want to see how a rattlesnake poops? WARNING: GRAPHIC & GROSS!
At what temperature and when are Rattlesnakes most active?
Rattlesnakes are evident during the spring and throughout the late spring, summer and fall when the temperatures range between 80-90° Fahrenheit.
However, when the temperatures exceed 95°, rattlesnakes will overheat. On the other hand, in colder temperatures below 60°, they become sluggish, move and react much slower. So when those temps threaten their comfort and health, they will seek shelter to contain and preserve their body heat.
Rattlesnakes are most active in the morning as well as after dusk when small rodents are out hunting for their own food.
Where do Rattlesnakes go in the winter or cold seasons?
Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes don’t actually hibernate like bears. Unlike hibernation where animals (like bears) ‘sleep’, rattlers go through brumation period where their body temperatures lower as do their metabolisms; making them less-active state. But, they are still aware of their surroundings, leave their secret snoozing place to go hunt. And, they still can strike when intruded upon or provoked.
Southern states where extreme cold and snow is less common, Rattlesnakes go through this brumation period where their bodies adjust to the lower temperatures.
When the day heats up, they will still exit their hiding place and either bask in he sunshine or try to find a scampering vittle or two. But, because of their slowed metabolism, they don’t require the same food sustainability as in the warmer temperatures when they move more freely.
That said, never assume you see won’t rattlesnakes in the winter or cold season. Nor should you think they won’t bite. You can always get bit by a rattlesnake, (or any wildlife for that matter) when provoked or threatened.
Do rattlesnakes sleep or come out at night?
Just like all other wildlife, rattlesnakes do in fact sleep. However, don’t assume they sleep only during the night. Sometimes rattlesnakes will also hunt for their rations at night when it’s not so scorching hot as mentioned above.
But when they do sleep at night, rattlesnakes typically seek protection from nighttime predators under logs, rocks, in burrows or holes, cracks and crevices in rocks or trees. They may even take a snooze under a tree or bush.
Rattlesnake Trivia: No one can tell when a rattlesnake is sleeping because their eyes are always open. Snakes of all species have no eyelids.
How to avoid snakes while camping
The best way to avoid snakes of any kind while hiking is to stay vigilant and keep your eyes the ground. Especially when stepping into or near holes, around rocks and logs or even basking in the warm sun.
Also, keep an ear out. If you hear what sounds like locusts or rattling, stop, look and listen. While you shouldn’t go looking for trouble, you will want to scope out the area of where the rattle is coming from.
And before bending over to pick up anything off the ground, such as a backpack, bag, logs, etc., use something long like a hiking pole or campfire poker to move the object first. Likewise, never just slip your feet in your hiking boots that are left outside. You never know if a rattler may be taking a snoozer.
What if a rattlesnake enters my camp?
Rattlesnakes are an important part of our Nation’s ecosystems. They help keep the rodent population in check which is why they should be left alone to do their job.
Most states in the U.S., rattle snakes are protected wildlife; making it illegal to harass, interact or even kill one.
For example, every state inhabited by Timber Rattlesnakes has laws protecting the species, including Texas. In Texas, it is listed as a threatened species. This means that people cannot take, transport, have in their possession or sell timber rattlesnakes.
One exception to that law is if you are threatened and defending you or a family member. Otherwise, killing a rattlesnake is a big no no.
What if I camp with my dog (or cat?)
Most snakes avoid living things bigger than themselves because they don’t want to end up as the prey. And having your dog with you may actually deter snakes from entering your campsite.
That said, don’t allow your dog (or cat) to wander into the woods, or nose around under scrub brush, bushes, rocks or logs or they may get the surprise of their life.
How do you scare away a Rattlesnake from your campsite? (Safely)
Because rattlesnakes are deaf, the best safe scare tactic to ward of a rattlesnake from your space is through movement and vibration. Should you see a rattlesnake at or in your camp, stay clear of him but stomp your feet loudly.
Never approach a rattler or try to move it with a branch, stick or shovel. Once provoked or feeling threatened, they will defend themselves by lunging at and biting you. And NEVER allow your children or pets to try to interact with snakes. In fact, tell your kids that “Snakes are NOPE ROPES!”.
Can rattlesnakes bite through tents?
Do rattlesnakes go into tents and campers?
Now, I know I said that it’s highly improbable that a snake will bite into your tent. However, do be aware that there is possibility that a rattlesnake could meander his way into a tent or camper where it’s warm and protected. But that’s only if your tent has access holes where he can enter.
The best way to keep any critters, snakes included, is to not make it inviting for them to even contemplate entering your tent or camper. Simply plug all access points such as cracks and holes where they could slither through.
That all said, if you’re really concerned about snakes entering your RV or tent, just work on keeping them out of your campsite instead. Or, learn to overland in a rooftop tent!
Will campfires keep Rattlesnakes away?
Snakes have an elevated sense of smell and are hyper-sensitive to fumes and odors. Rattlesnakes are known to have a strong disdain towards smoke; including campfires and smoker grills. Which, that may explain why some campers prefer their campfire to smolder all day.
But, if you’re in an area of a fire ban where you are prohibited to have campfires, you may want to seek other above measures to keep Rattlers away from your campsite.
What smells keep rattlesnakes away?
Try a spray mixture of one or combination of the oils mentioned above with distilled water and a pinch of sea salt (sea salt dissipates the oil) in a glass spray bottle. Then, spray on your pant legs, socks and shoes. As well, spray around your tent and anything laying on or near the ground to deter Rattlesnakes (or any snakes) from napping or nosing around your campsite.
But there are also some other natural snake repellents if you’re really eat on dealing with rattlesnakes on trails or in your campsite.
You know how you cry when you chop onions? It’s because of the chemical, sulfonic acid. Mix onion salt and garlic powder with granular rock salt in a shaker jar. Or, you can just buy a combo mixture ready to pack into your backpack or camp box. Simply sprinkle them around your tent and perimeter of your campsite. Though I’ve never tried it, I’ve heard garlic oil works well too.
Also, you may have heard or read that moth balls are great snake deterrents. It’s because of the main ingredient, Napthalene. The smell of napthalene supposedly irritates snakes without harming them.
However, I haven’t tried using them to deter rattlesnakes, let alone any snake for that matter. But if you wish to try them to deter snakes, make absolutely certain you pack them up and take them with you when vacating your campsite.
Moth balls are toxic to wildlife, pets and children. And of course, this applies to the leave no trace principle.
Ammonia or vinegar (NOT in combination) are also snake deterrents. However, they are not long lasting. So you may want to spray frequently, especially after rain or precipitation. Spray around your campsite, tent bottom, camping mats, etc.
And lastly, if foxes are indigenous to where you’re setting up camp, fox urine is a very good natural repellent for snakes when spread around your campsite.
Why fox urine? Well, because snakes know foxes will kill and eat them. So, they’ll avoid those areas smelling of foxes all together.
How to snake-proof your campsite?’
Now that we’ve shared everything we know about camping in rattlesnake country, here’s how to keep rattlesnakes away from your campsite and tent.
1) Scope out your campsite area
Before pitch your tent or park your RV; especially in the backcountry, look for areas that are potential snake habitats. You may want to avoid camping in bouldery or forested terrains.
2) Prevent snake intrusion
Plug any holes or entry points in your tent or camper where rattlesnakes (or any snakes) could enter.
3) Keep your campsite tidy
It’s important to keep things picked up and off of the ground. Don’t pile your belongings up where snakes can hide. If a bear box is available to store your camping gear in, do so. And always poke a bag or log before picking it up with your hands.
4) Store your food correctly
Snakes aren’t hunting for your food. Rattlesnakes (or any snake for that matter) hunt for rodents and small animals. So, keep all food (raw ingredients, dehydrated pouches or even powdered foods) in sealed containers where mice, rats and other rodents can’t get into.
If you remove invitation of small wildlife getting into your campsite, you’ll help mitigate reason for rattlesnakes to enter and join in on dinner hour.
5) Use snake repellents
As we talked about earlier, there are several natural snake repellents you can use around your camper or tent as well as the perimeter of your campsite.
6) Check for snakes before entering or exiting your tent
When opening your tent, always check for snakes inside first prior to entering. Use your hiking pole to poke around or move things. Look under your pillow, inside your sleeping bag, around backpacks, in shoes and boots, or any place where snakes can hide.
Also, before exiting your tent, unzip slowly and look outside your tent. Snakes seek heat and warm sunshine. Your tent or camper entrance may be the warm spot for a morning or afternoon sun bask.
Final thoughts on how to keep rattlesnakes away while camping
While none of us are fans of rattlesnakes, having them enter our campsite will definitely leave us hating them even more. However, taking these precautions and using rattlesnake deterrents, you can relax, enjoy your time out in the wild and sleep knowing you’re safe from venomous snakes…hopefully.
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