My English pointer, Emma, was going insane at the sliding glass door. Her excited shrieking, yapping and jumping at the glass was typical of what I’ve come to expect when she sees a mule deer or javelina in the lot behind our house, but it was after dark and there was no way she could see anything through the back yard’s security gate.
“Let Emma out. She has to go,” my wife told our 12-year-old son.
“These’s a snake,” he emotionlessly replied once he reached the door.
In the desert southwest, fall brings with it a dryness that makes sunny, 60-degree mornings feel crisp. In contrast to our blistering summers where patches of shade are preferred, in fall wildlife seeks out sunny spots–particularly those with southern exposures that retain warming heat well past sundown. The back of our house faces south, and its stucco exterior was radiating just the kind of warmth that had attracted a rattlesnake.
Ordinarily, I’d have just let the snake be, but it was within the block wall surrounding our yard, and with the dog yapping and leaping on one side of the glass, and the snake striking on the other, I wasn’t interested in letting it find a winter home that close to us. We live in a residential area just a few hundred yards outside of a major city, so I figured our air rifle was the best tool to dispatch the snake without attracting unnecessary attention. The problem was that I didn’t have much of a shot angle any way I looked at it. I couldn’t open the door and risk the snake slipping inside. Outside, I couldn’t shoot head-on because of the glass, and there was a picnic table in the way of a side shot that would either put me too far for a sure shot, or too close to a coiled up rattler.
I opted to attempt the long shot, and ended up really pissing off the already agitated viper when the pellet creased its head. I’d had enough of screwing with this snake and, gunshot be damned, I decided to shoot it with a real gun, which is what I should have done in the first place. Snakeshot fired from a .22 is a beautiful thing. From a few feet it’s devastating on small targets, but at a few yards farther, it’s all but harmless.
I still had difficult shot angles to deal with, but my attempt with the air rifle had diverted the snake’s attention away from the dog and it was still facing away from the house when I came back from my gun safe with a .22 and a few rounds of snakeshot. I slowly eased the door open just enough to stick the rifle and my arm through. The snake turned and took a lower attitude giving me a nice, nearly straight-down headshot from only a few inches that I quickly took, ending all of the excitement with a sharp “crack” and a slight pock mark in the concrete patio.
As I’d expect, my wife and all of our kids huddled around the dead snake to “ooh!” and “ahh!” followed quickly by, “Can we keep the skin?” I never thought for a second that we wouldn’t. Tanning a snakeskin is so simple using one of the many kits available at sporting goods stores.
“Of course we’re going to keep the skin,” I replied. And being the type who believes, “if you kill it, you eat it,” I let them know we’d be having it for dinner the following night.
There are a surprising number of recipes for rattlesnake, and you don’t have to live in the desert southwest to try it. You can mailorder snake meat. Our new favorite way of having snake is barbecued using the homemade sauce below. Sushi fans take note–it’s pretty much the same sauce used for unagi. Some folks say snake tastes like chicken or frog legs. To me, the white stringy meat lacks any distinct flavor and has a slightly rubbery texture without being “chewy.”
The kids loved it, and soon we’ll have a nice snakeskin to add to our trophy room. I’m sure it sucked to be that snake, but with five kids, a dog and an absent-minded mother all living in our house, keeping a poisonous reptile wild and loose in the backyard just wasn’t going to happen.
Snake Barbecue Sauce
2T soy sauce
1/2c fish stock
1T fresh grated ginger
Combine all ingredients and bring to a gentle boil. Boil until reduced by half.