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 lived in my backwoods home for more than a decade. To be honest, I can’t remember how many copperheads I 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 . . .
One evening, 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 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 been a part of plenty of snake killings achieved with bullets through the years. I’ve used .22s, .380s, 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 handgun 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, 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 for 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 home. Shooting that close to the house can be ticklish, especially with a shotgun. This snake died from a dose of .38 Special snake shot. (Snake shot comes in various forms and is essentially a handgun cartridge — centerfire or rimfire — that fires a wave of small pellets rather than a single bullet.) 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 shot of .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 — into the snake, not my toes.
Of course, if you want the ultimate in environmentally friendly snake whacking, a handy garden hoe, shovel, or any other large blunt or sharp implement delivering a head shot will serve. My father once killed a copperhead by spiking it with a football, a la Tony Dorsett.
That means you have to close the 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 critter 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 suffered venomous snakebites from dead 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, but 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 dangerous snakes — pit vipers that include copperheads, diamondback rattlers and other rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (i.e. water moccasins) — might consider your new homestead as prime real estate. There are good snakes, rat snakes and garter snakes come to mind. And water snakes, though aggressive, are generally non-venomous. So figure out who your enemy is, and then choose your weapons and ammo accordingly.