How to Shoot A Snake


Life in the scenic Ozarks woodlands of western Arkansas means adjusting yourself to the natural rhythms of the seasons: colorful leaves in the yard in fall, at least one wonderland snow in winter, and venomous reptiles nesting under the house in spring and summer. To put it bluntly, if you live out in the sticks like I do, you will own at least one designated snake gun, and learn how to use it.

I grew up in rural Arkansas. I’ve lived in my present backwoods home for more than a decade. To be honest, I can’t remember how many copperheads I’ve killed over the years, but I have learned what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to dispatching the scaly bastards. I mean, Agkistrodon contortrix. For example . . .

On the night of Tuesday, July 26 at approximately 11:30, my faithful snake detector dog Oreo started up with that very special, high-pitched, frantic bark that means, “SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKE! COME KILL IT PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! NOW! NOW! NOW!”

I grabbed a flashlight and my snake gun: a .38 Colt Detective Special that I keep charged with at least one CCI shotshell along with the hollowpoints during the warm months.

Note: if at all possible, a snake gun should fire some sort of shot load, instead of a solid projectile. I’ve killed plenty of copperheads with bullets over the years. I’ve used .22s, .380’s, a 45 ACP (1911, of course) and an M1 carbine. While solid bullets kill snakes dead, it sometimes takes a couple of shots to put the little bullet onto the fairly-small, moving head of a copperhead.

A shotshell fired from a shotgun, or maybe a Smith & Wesson Governor or Taurus Judge, or even a shotshell designed for a pistol or rifle, makes it a lot easer to get hits on a slithery, squirmy target a lot longer than that it is wide.

So, if the situation allows it, grab a shotgun loaded with fine bird shot (#7 or smaller) and try to get a clear shot from about 10 yards to let the pattern spread. That recipe makes highly effective snake medicine.

I found this particular copperhead wrapped around a slat in one of the vents that opens to the crawlspace. Its head was under the slat, and its body was over the slat, which means it had crawled out from UNDER OUR HOUSE into the relative cool of the evening.

Many times, I’ve killed copperheads that have decided set up housekeeping under our house. Shooting that close to the house can be ticklish, especially with a shotgun. This snake died from a dose of .38 Special shotshell. I had to maneuver around so that the charge of shot hit snake, not house, but I was able to get close enough and had time to line the shot up.

I have encountered situations before where no shotshell will work. For example, I’ve killed a venomous snake that was wrapped around the wiring of my air conditioner unit. Using a shotshell in that case could have taken out the wiring along with the snake. I had to wait until its head was clear and on the ground, and single .22 solid took care of the problem.

I’ve also killed a copperhead between my feet, literally. I was in vegetation over my boot tops, about five feet from the border of my yard, and could see only flashes of coppery scales as the reptile slid around in the undergrowth. That situation called for one precisely aimed solid bullet that was going exactly where I put the sights–on the snake, not my toes.

Of course, if you want the ultimate in environmentally friendly snake whacking, a handy garden hoe, or a shovel, or any other large blunt or sharp implement will serve. My father once killed a copperhead by spiking it with a football, ala Tony Dorsett.

That means you have to close to hand-to-fang distance, which gets really complicated if it’s dark and you need a third hand for a flashlight, or the snake is somewhere that requires you to get on your belly to see it….like under my porch. I like to have the option of getting farther away, and to use one hand to hold a flashlight in the dark, so that means a firearm of some sort in the other hand.

As you can see from the top photo, this particular copperhead took a lot of pellet hits to its head, and up and down the length of its body. Because the snake was wrapped around on itself, there was just more scaly body for the pellets to hit.

Once I knew it was dead, I used the fireplace tongs to untangle the still-writhing carcass from around the slat in the vent. That’s another thing the newbie snake shooter needs to know. Snakes have very primitive nervous systems. Plenty of folks have been bitten by dead venomous snakes. All it takes is one squirm and for a fang to hit flesh, and you’re bitten.

In the daylight, this one turned out to be bigger than I expected, just over 27 inches long, which is healthy for an Arkansas copperhead, buy certainly not huge. I’ve killed a three-footer before.

But if you’re thinking about moving to the country to get away from it all, or to set up your TEOTWAWKI fortress, you will need to find out what kinds of venomous snakes might consider your new homestead as prime real estate. And then choose your weapons accordingly.


  1. avatar Don Curton says:

    I’ve killed more than a handful of copperheads (in the yard, not the house) back when I lived in beautiful West-by-God-Virginia. All with a shovel. Not really that hard, but then I never had to crawl under the house to find them.

    One of the best shots I ever made, however, was at a snake swimming through our cattle tank, South Texas. Yeah, I know about shooting on water, but there’s a high berm on the far side to catch richochets. Anyway, snake swimming rapidly, maybe 25 yards away, I grab my son’s .22 rimfire cricket, iron sights, hold it pistol style and fire one round. Head shot! This in front of witnesses too.

    Then there’s the time a 4′ water snake crawled up into the water tank of our toilet. My dad went at it with a 12 gauge. I remember helping replace the toilet later that day. Fun times, that.

    1. avatar kajunkkrittter says:

      to me there are 2 kinds of sanakes: a dead one and the one i didnt see

  2. avatar 2Wheels says:

    A shotshell from any old handgun is all you really need, the most common ones are .38 Special but I’ve seen them in a few other calibers, including .45ACP. No need to go out and buy a Taurus Judge just to kill snakes. Me and my dad used to kill snakes in Texas with his Model 28 .357 loaded up with .38 shotshells all the time.

  3. avatar Chase says:

    Roy Hill is the IGOTD. After all, another guy did the same just once and that got him in trouble with RF.

  4. avatar tdiinva says:

    Golf clubs are pretty effective snake killers. Saw Stuart Appleby do it on TV at the old Kemper Open at Avenal. Got PETA up arms. Way to go Stu!

  5. avatar Joe Grine says:

    Hey Roy. Have you ever been backpacking on the Caney Creek trail in Arkansas? Its in the Ouachita Mountains – about 5 miles north of the small town of Athens. I got bit on the finder by a Water moccasin back in 1986. We had been picking up rocks to built a damn across the creek – i picked the lucky rock that he was hidding under. Anyway, that place is full of water moccasins – seems like I would see one a day at least. Way more that I would see in the Louisisana swamps.

  6. avatar Snakekiller says:

    You know, its illlegal to kill snakes in Arkansas.

    1. avatar Joe Grine says:

      There is an exception that applies in this case: All native snakes, including venomous snakes, are protected by law and are illegal to kill unless they “pose reasonable threat or endangerment to persons or property,” according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife code.

  7. avatar Ralph says:

    Call me crazy (you won’t be the first), but I like snakes. I’ve encountered plenty of them while hiking, some venomous and most not. When in venomous snake country, I hiked with leggings, which made me feel a little safer and look a lot stoopider. Venomous or not, I left the snakes alone, and they left me alone. When they’re in the woods just being snakes, the herps and I have no issues.

    However, interspecies tolerance goes only so far. If I found a dangerous snake in my home (not really an issue in eastern Massachusetts), it would be a different story. I couldn’t even call a veteran herper to take the slithering bastard somewhere safe, because snakes have a way of disappearing into the woodwork never to be found until they bite someone on the ass.

  8. avatar Roy Hill says:

    Hey, Joe, Grine.

    Never hiked Caney Creek, but I grew up in the Ouachitas, down in Scott County.

    I think that snakes were probably invented in the Ouachita Mountains. It just drips water moccasins down there. I’ve yet to see a rattlesnake where I live now, but forget how many rattlesnake encounters I’ve had in the Ouachitas.

    A few years ago, my mother kept emailing me pictures of timber rattlers that got crushed while crossing the highway one October, on their way to winter den sites. In two weeks time, there were four different dead rattlers. That’s just the ones that got by cars

  9. avatar Pete says:

    Since you haven’t received any bleeding-heart lib comments from Magoo and others, let me provide one: “OOOOH, that is so cruel! All life is sacred, how could you be so mean and judgmental, maybe the snake just wanted to get to know you and your dog better, snakes are a part of the great web of Mother Gaia, SHAME on you!!!”

    Does that cover all the lib bases on snake killing? My personal preference on snakes, wolves, mountain lions, grizz, and other dangerous critters in rural areas would be to trap them, sedate them, and release them in Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco, Central Park in NYC, or any urban park in a nice, Democrat-controlled city. Because people in those cities LOVE predators (somewhere else), and should be entitled to experience up close and personal encounters with the predators.

    Unfortunately, the trap and relocate program is a bit expensive, so I tend to just shoot any of the aforesaid critters that endanger me or mine. I know – I must be some kind of evil animal-hating tea party racist right-wing extremist gun nut. Hey, works for me.

    1. avatar Magoo says:

      Since you trolled, I am an active hunter and outdoor person. My policy on snakes is live and let live for the most part, venomous or not. I certainly wouldn’t kill one just because I saw it. Snakes are our friends. As Margaret noted, they control the rodent population. And unlike snakes, rodents carry filth and disease to humans.

      There is a reason you haven’t received any “bleeding-heart lib comments” from me. I’m not a liberal, bleeding heart or otherwise. Do you have any other opinions to offer on subjects you know absolutely nothing about?

      1. avatar Pete says:

        OOOOH, I’m crushed! That is sooo hateful and mean spirited!!!

      2. avatar Superbad says:

        Well I shoot both rodents and snakes. Problem solved.

  10. avatar Sid says:

    A sharp garden hoe. Gives you stand-off range and minimizes collateral damage.

    If out in a field and you have it readily available, I agree with the author that a shotshell in a pistol is good for sending serpents to meet their maker.

  11. avatar Mogg says:

    I generally let snakes go, if I can. I’d rather run them off than shoot them.

    Had to kill a cotton mouth a month or so ago, as it was
    defending it’s territory, which happened to be my front porch.

    I had put my little .410 derringer on safe duty, because I felt it wouldn’t
    be needed, and besides, it’s hot, and I didn’t think I needed the extra weight.

    The most appropriate weapon I had was my .22 target pistol,
    as I was loading up the car to go shooting when he appeared.

    First shot grazed him, and made him angry. He was within my
    sight in range, just enough to make the round hit slightly low.

    He came right at me, at which time all trigger dicipline went right out the window.

    Thankfully, I caught him through the body, which gave me an oppurtunity
    to finish him with a shot to the head.

    Lessons learned:

    1) Snake gun stays availible until winter well and truly sets in.
    2) Closing in too much means one must remember to hold under/over.
    3) Stay calm, maintain hold and firing dicipline.
    4) learn to shoot while retreating.

  12. avatar Van says:

    It had crawled out from under your house? I would invest in some screens for your crawlspace vents.

    1. avatar Margaret says:


    1. avatar Margaret says:

      30 rounds, then killed it with a shovel? Wow…just…wow.

      1. avatar Rebecca says:

        And his wife killed a *bigger* snake with a pellet gun.

  13. avatar Ben Eli says:

    If you have ever handled snakes, you know the secret to snake handling. Pin the neck right behind the head, thumb down on head, and fingers wrapped around the snake. I’ve never had to do it, but when I was kid we had a water moccasin in our back yard. My yippy dog, also named Oreo, goes nuts. We call our neighbors who are hunting enthusiasts and he takes a broken arrow shaft, pins, grabs, and releases in the front creek. If you got the know how, and the acreage to release venomous snakes, it is a much better option than birdshot. Why kill when you don’t need to?

    1. avatar Margaret says:

      “If you got the know how, and the acreage to release venomous snakes, it is a much better option than birdshot. Why kill when you don’t need to?”

      Especially when you consider the benefits of having them around. Like helping to keep down rodent populations. Though handling venomous snakes can be very dangerous, so I can understand not wanting to risk it.

  14. avatar Roy Hill says:

    Nonvenomous snakes get a free pass at my place, unless they get inside the house. It happened during my childhood.

    Venomous snakes get a free pass until they get into my yard. I’m not about to risk getting bitten to relocate copperheads, which are so common locally that I typically average about four or five in the yard per summer.

    That’s just the ones I shoot in the yard, or decapitate with a hoe or shovel. That’s not including the ones I see crawling across local roads, in ditches, or in the woods. We’re in no danger of running out of copperheads any time soon.

    There’s a guy who operates a private purple martin sanctuary near here, and I’ve heard he averages shooting about 40 or 50 snakes a year, as they are attracted by the chemicals in the martin guano and come to seek an easy avian meal.

    Snakes love to eat baby birds and eggs. I’ve seen six-foot black snakes feasting on hatchlings in a martin box, 20 feet off the ground. Okay, that’s another reason I’d pop a nonvenomous snake.

    1. avatar Dude says:

      Crap, there goes my planned purple martin community.

      1. avatar Katie Ayers says:

        Dude–or Duder or His Dudeness,

        As Maude Lebowski said, “Don’t be facetious.” Common black snakes kill our baby bluebirds so often. It’s sad for bird lovers to see the lovely, warm-blooded and family-oriented birds die by mere reactionary reptiles. SOME people, including Jeffrey Lebowski, the True Dude, have feelings for living creatures.

    2. avatar Dude says:

      Well there goes my planned purple martin community.

  15. avatar karlb. says:

    I’ve got to admit that this whole thread has me weirded out–God bless the upper Great Lakes states: in theory we have Timber Rattlers, but in fifty years of hunting, hiking, mountain biking, I have never seen one.

    1. avatar Nope No Way says:

      In PA we have both. Rattlers tend to avoid you if they can. They’ll warn you if you’re too close. They tend to avoid confrontation when possible. But those pesky copperheads are territorial, curious, and vindictive. If you’re walking around where they are, they’ll actually come out to see what’s going on. Hate those buggers.

  16. avatar DocHoliday916 says:

    Roy, EXCELLENT! EXCELLENT article. I enjoyed the read and the info. Nothing beats experience!

  17. avatar Jeff Jacobs says:

    A few years ago I had started carrying two shotshells in my Taurus M85 Ultralight, due to an increased number of copperheads around that year. After shooting one and getting ready for a followup shot, I found that the cylinder had jammed. The recoil had loosened up the shotshell cap of the second round enough to prevent the cylinder from turning. If you are using an ultralight .38, I suggest you test this at the range before carrying more than one loaded shotshell at a time.

  18. avatar M. D. says:

    Roy, my dad grew up in Arkansas and learned to kill them before they bit someone. He passed this along to his sons who grew up in lower eastern Michigan on a farm that has a couple swampy areas. I have seen Timber Rattlers there, but didn’t have a gun with me, ( I was a kid at the time), and didn’t think chasing them into a swamp would win dad’s approval. The D-Bar-A boy scout camp is several miles from our farm; one of the young city boys was bitten and died some years back. He had a pocket full of “fishing worms” he had found under some rocks and they had injected his hand full of poison. Way back in the early days, most farmers had hogs, mostly for their own use. They would turn a herd of pigs loose in an area (usually swamps) and they would clean out the snake population. If you can’t afford snakeshot for your favorite gat, get a pet pig or two!! The bleeding heart idiots can’t complain about a farmer feeding his pets. 🙂

  19. avatar Rick H says:

    I shoot every rattler I see using snakeshot in whatever handgun I happen to be carrying. The next person that comes along may be a child and our prairie rattlers don’t always give a warning before they strike. I depend on Decon for the rats…

    1. avatar Margaret says:

      Right, because rat poison is in no way dangerous to that next child that might come along.

      1. avatar Phil says:

        and when was the last time rat poison attacked someone… (or ever attack anyone).

        The same fault logic could be said about barbed wire, kitchen knives, scissors, cars etc. Rat poison is placed in an isolated place away from children and even if a typical amount left was consumed it is not as harmful as a venomous snake bite

        Venomous snakes are wild animals which surprise surprise do not announce their presence.

  20. avatar GARY MCCLENNY says:

    Rule #1 on my ranch is venomous snake in camp gets killed; non venomous get a free pass to travel after we pick them up and play with them for a while and get lots of photos of us handling them. I happen to like and appreciate snakes of all kinds, but do not allow the venomous snakes to live if we find them in camp since we have to walk to the outhouse in the dark! All non venomous snakes are welcome on the ranch since they, too, keep the rats in check. Most of the time, we use the .410 shorty to dispatch rattlers and copperheads—it works without question. Take any single shot .410 and cut the barrel down to 20″ and the stock down so that you do not create an illegal firearm and you can shoot it one-handed all day long comfortably and accurately. VERY effective! Our average copperhead is 30-33″ and our average rattler is 54″. A friend of mine was bitten on the finger by a baby copperhead and almost lost his arm! It took 9 months of treatment and skin grafts before the healing process took over. Do not laugh at the power of a tiny 9″ copperhead!

  21. avatar Mojavegreen says:

    We don’t get any copperheads. Our favorite venomous snake are the 5 species of rattlesnake. The red rock rattler, the speckled rattler, the western pacific rattler, the rocky mountain rattler and my personal favorite the Mojavegreen Rattler. Which I am told is a cross breed between the western pacific and either a moccasin or a copperhead.

    Now and then I get one but for the most part they seem to stay away. Which is fine by me. If it’s out in its own area I let them be unless I have no choice due to safety issues lol. My weapon of choice is my 12 ga coach gun with 2 number 7 shot shells. Word of advice, just because you can pull both triggers at the same time don’t mean you should. It’s kinda like getting kicked by a mule.

  22. avatar Bill C. says:

    All you people that don’t kill the venomous snakes obviously don’t have any kind of bird dogs or you would be singing a totaly different tune. My retriever was bitten by a rattler in the flank ( not even a good solid hit, just a glancing blow ) and it took five or six months to get it to heal up!!! It killed all the tissue in that area and just became a big hole that you could look into and see his muscles working down in there. Venomous snakes have a low survival rate around me, zero percent!! My wife shoots’em with her 38 snubby and CCI shot shells.

  23. avatar Patrick from Texas says:

    Here’s how NOT to shoot a snake:

    When I was in my middle teens, my cousin and I liked to roam the northern Mississippi creek beds. One day, a water moccasin surprised us. Usually, they just coil up. This one reared up like he was under a snake-charmer’s spell. I was in the lead, nearest the snake , so I fired my single-shot Savage 12 gauge. I missed. Several things were working against me and in the snake’s favor: 1) the shotgun was full-choke 2) the snake was moving erratically, very…snakelike 3) I was trying to levitate by picking up both feet at the same time. From a distance, it probably looked like I was dancing and shooting at the same time. The snake was still there, so I smoothly opened the action, loaded a new shell, closed the action, cocked the manual hammer, shouldered the gun, aimed, missed. THREE TIMES!!! Disgusted by the pitiful marksmanship, the snake eventually left.

  24. avatar Ann St Louis says:

    I am glad someone is killing the snakes.
    I saw a copperhead in my driveway yesterday.
    I went to get a shovel to kill it, but the snake was
    gone when I got back. Now I’m scared to go out in
    the yard.

    1. avatar Dude says:

      Totally understandable. Myself, I’m a bit paranoid right now. Over the last two weeks, I encountered two rattlers within striking distance while bike riding. Hearing anything that sounds remotely like a rattle is freaking me out…things jingling/clinking, tamborine in the background from a song on the radio. Over the years we’ve had several snakes get into the house, so I’m hyper-alert to every crevice, corner, and shadow right now. It’s completely irrational, but todays encounter especially freaked me out.

  25. avatar Brenda from Missouri says:

    We came across two copperheads on our farm last summer. One was in the yard on mowed lawn less than 50 feet from the house. Thank God the box I was carrying to the burn pile was off to the side (so I could see where I was walking) and not in front of me. Halfway to the burn pile I froze because I was within 6 feet of a 30″ copperhead stretched directly across my path. Two more steps and I would have been on it. It had frozen also. Neither of us moved, so I hollered for someone to bring me the hoe. Yes, I know most people get bitten because they either step on it or try to kill it. BUT I have small grandchildren in my yard all the time and letting it go simply was not an option. Good sharp hoe, one well aimed whack and its head was dispatched. Way too close for comfort. Got a big flock of guineas now and getting a gun. Oh, the second one I think was God showing me not to be deceived by the first ones lack of motion. My neighbor found it in the front yard when he was mowing. I took him the hoe and he whacked and didn’t get a good clean hit. THAT one started moving/striking like a streak of lightening, whereas the one I killed never did move, coil up, nothing, until its head was off. I don’t go hunting them down, but if they enter my safety zone around the house, they are dead.

  26. avatar Billy says:

    Only coward kill snakes because they’re afraid. Cowards and hicks.

    1. avatar Kevin says:

      Is being fearful for your own life wrong?

    2. avatar Katie Ayers says:

      Friend, My husband and I both have diabetes–not from overeating, but genetics. This puts us both at very high risk for snake bites. We have a beloved dog. We have grandchildren, nieces and nephews with children. They all enjoy being alive. Because of our limestone topography (Karst) and rural setting, we also have copperheads. They are not cute, helpless snakes. They don’t make good pets. They have few natural enemies, and they know this, if nothing else. My Viet vet husband is afraid of ZERO. Neither am I. We don’t HUNT, by the way, so we’re not “good ol’ boys ‘n girls.” But we can’t allow copperheads to live on our property. Use your head. I hate to see any creature suffer, and I don’t allow copperheads to suffer, either. No creature on this planet should have a scary, painful death. That includes venomous snakes. They mean no harm, they’re just aggressive killing machines. If they knew that man didn’t like them, they’d stay away, but they just don’t understand. Therefore, killing them immediately and humanely is an imperative. Never assume that people are irrationally fearful of deadly snakes: it’s a matter of common sense.
      Go online and search for “images of poisonous snake bites” and look at the terrible necrosis that sets into human tissue, even on big, healthy human survivors. Then think of two diabetics, pets, and children. One photo is worth a thousand words. By the way, I’m a vegetarian. But I’ll continue to protect my property against these hard-to-see reptiles. My father raised no fools; just ladies and gentlemen who are good shots.

  27. avatar Paul Breedlove says:

    I was out in my yard this summer, working on the mower, and I saw a snake. No clue what kind, I’m not good with identification. Scared the hell out of me, and I unloaded my ccw piece, a .40 caliber p07 duty on him. I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I reloaded and gave him a second magazine too. Didn’t realize they kept twitching when they’re dead. I’m surprised nobody called the cops on me. 24 rounds of .40 caliber in a quiet, suburban neighborhood. Poor bastard was very very dead though.

  28. avatar Ken says:

    I cut the grass yesterday, and at night, low and behold, three copperheads come a crawling from under the house. I never would have seen them if I did no cut the grass. I pinned them down with frog stickers then removed the heads with a square shovel. My dad bought the frog stickers and put them on a 5′ dowel. Easiest way to avoid shooting a hole in one of my water lines near the house. Last summer I shot a moccasin in my pond at 75′ with my browning 22, no scope, pretty proud of that shot. Normally I leave them alone, except when they are in around my animals or my home. But that moccasin was aggressive, he saw me and began heading my way. I got him before he could go under the water, had he done that I would have left and fought another day. I went and got some Ferrell cats on my place to keep the rodent population down, so the snakes can feel free to leave from around the house. They are welcome to stay in the field and around the pond, they just need to watch out for the mower.

  29. avatar Tom says:

    I just want to thank the folks who have posted useful information here on how to kill copperheads. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to get this type of info on the internet. I live on some acreage west of Fort Worth, and kill 8 to 10 copperheads each year, usually May through July. Yes, I try to keep vegetation trimmed and minimize frogs, mice and other snake food sources. But… they show up in my yard, in my driveway, on the sidewalk, on the front porch and on the back porch. When they start showing up, I actively hunt them around my house, usually just after dark, using a high powered flashlight and a .22 long barrel revolver loaded with shot shells. Or a shovel or hoe if that’s all I can get to. At any rate, if I see them, they die. If other people want to let them live in their yard, fine, it’s a free country. But those who have suggested that killing them is somehow immoral, or cowardly, or irresponsible, do not know what they are talking about. ‘Leaving them alone’ is not an option if they are around my house. I will not have my wife, children or pets risk being bitten, and anyone who is willing to do so is a true coward.

  30. avatar Edward Romero says:

    I just use my Ruger Single Six with 6 1/2” barrel.
    Only use .22 or .22 Mag rounds no snake shot.
    If I can’t get em with 6 shots then he lives another day. I live in Northern California with a lot of rattlesnakes. Read they only eat twice a month so what good are they? My cat kills rodents everyday. Killed a few big ones all coiled up and ready to bite me or my dogs.

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