June 9, 2011 by wcobserver
I ran back into the house for the gun and then returned to call off the dogs. Being duly proud of their discovery, of course they were loath to back off their prey. I had the snake’s head in my sights but by then Morgan had decided to try a bit of lunging toward the big fat coiled up shiny thing, now that Mom was paying attention. I had to put that do-as-I-say-or-there’ll-be-hell-to-pay tone in my voice to get her to back off. Even then, she grudgingly gave up only a few feet. But it was enough for me to feel safe in squeezing off a round.
The snake reacted immediately, dropping out of its ready-to-strike position and writhing around on itself. So I knew the bullet had found purchase. But where? At least it didn’t race off across the yard. I approached cautiously, and then stood with the dogs a few minutes at a respectful distance until I realized it had died. A careful examination with a rather long stick revealed that my shot had gone straight through its eye, a shot I could probably never duplicate, one of those “feel it with your body and mind, grasshopper” moments you can’t think about and do at the same time. It reminded me of my first killing with the drop-dead chicken.
On reflection, I considered its beauty — nearly six feet long and as big in its midsection as my forearm, the black body interlaced with brown markings glistening in the sunlight. Its shiny scales overlapped with amazing flexibility and precision. The bone structure of its face, the part not cut through with my bullet, led a thin ridge on its cheek in a delicate line toward the tip of its dangerous mouth. I buried it in the compost.
Less than a week later, another frenzied barking erupted, this time on the north side of the house by the front porch. I recognized the sound. It seemed to be the same snake — same size, coloring, the rasp of its rattle abrading my eardrums. This time two cats sat in attendance along with Morgan, all of them positioned a few feet apart yet within striking distance of the coiled reptile. I grabbed the gun.
This time I was nervous — out of breath, trembly. The cats, who in general don’t take orders from anyone, didn’t care about my hell-to-pay tone and moved away sideways only after all due deliberation. Then the snake started to move and I had to fire twice, getting a body shot the first time and only in the second shot hitting the head. It took longer to die, a spectacle of writhing and attempted escape. I didn’t feel good about it, not that I felt good about the first one. It occurred to me they were probably a mated pair, perhaps traveling toward some favored hunting ground. I wondered how many of these fabulous creatures could be left, with more people moving into these lands and dispatching them as I had done.
I’ve since learned that timber rattlers are considered endangered by many, although they haven’t officially been placed on any list. I determined never to kill another rattlesnake. I no longer have small children up here to protect. The yapping dogs can be brought in the house until the visiting snakes pass through to wherever they are headed. They were here first, and unlike deer do not fare well around human kind. (To be continued)