SIG SAUER recently announced a couple of special editions of their P238 pistol: the P238 Liberty and the P238 Copperhead. When I saw the Copperhead, I immediately told my wife I’d found my next Christmas present. Of course, that’s (probably) wishful thinking; most of my English instructor’s salary goes to pull-up pants and groceries for a three-year-old. But the SIG SAUER Copperhead had immediate, personal appeal. I need a new snake gun. I need it (are you listening honey?) to shoot actual, real copperheads. You know, the leaf-patterned slithery, scaly bastards with no shoulders.
I’ve lived in the Arkansas Ozarks for the last ten years. Before that, I spent my childhood about 100 miles farther south, living in Arkansas’ Ouachita mountains. While the Ozarks drip snakes, I am thoroughly convinced that the Ouachitas are where God invented snakes.
Life down in the Ouachita Mountains requires up-close-and-personal encounters with three different types of rattlesnakes: western diamondback, pygmy and canebrake. We also had frequent run-ins with water moccasins, and the occasional close-proximity glimpses of the rare and elusive coral snake. And copperheads. Lots and lots of copperheads
Let me be clear: I don’t harbor a psychotic bloodlust against snakes. My personal policy is to let non-venomous snakes live in peace—unless they do something really outrageous like show up uninvited in my bedroom closet, which happened once when I was a child. As RF might say, avoid, evade, escape.
That said, I now have a toddler running around the yard. So I’ve gotten even more cold-blooded and snake-eyed about doing what I have to do to protect me and mine.
I’ve personally dispatched copperheads with .22 rifles and pistols, a Makarov in.380 ACP, an M1 Carbine, shotguns in .410, 12 and 16 gauge, .38’s, .357 magnums, a 1911 in .45 ACP, and a 9mm Browning Hi-power. The list does not blunt or edged weapons or big rocks.
This summer, a Colt Detective Special has been (hint, hint) my snake gun of choice.
I keep the first chamber to rotate under the hammer stoked with a .38 CCI Shotshell. The other five chambers hold Speer Gold Dots. That way, I can just pop out the shotshell and replace it with another Gold Dot when I conceal carry the piece as defense against two-legged snakes. But around the house, the CCI Shotshell goes back in for when the legless variety shows up.
I have no idea how many copperheads I’ve whacked since I moved to my current house, but it has to be around 40 or 50 over the last 10 years.
Since July 1 of this year, I have killed four copperheads within 15 feet of the house. Two were only inches away from the house. The most recent was underneath my back porch.
The third snake I killed this year, only two weeks ago, put up a heck of a fight, and gave Digger, my Australian Shepherd/Kelpie mix, a late night trip to an emergency animal clinic.
Digger hates snakes. He’s been bitten by copperheads at least six or seven times because he tries to kill them himself. And at 12-years-old, he’s just not as fast as he used to be. Usually, we just give him half a Benadryl to help with the swelling, and then go to the vet the next day for some doggie antibiotics in case of infection. Copperheads have really dirty, bacteria-infested mouths to go along with their venom.
But this one bit Digger right in the middle of his tongue. Within minutes, his tongue, throat, and the saliva glands under his tongue swelled so much that he started choking to death. So we rushed him to the vet after I killed the snake. Digger pulled through and is back to normal now, but I feel guilty, because it’s my fault he got bit. But I did learn some lessons.
Part of the problem was that it was the second copperhead the dogs found in the yard that night, which really freaked me out. I had never faced a multi-snake night before. I had killed four snakes over a week a few summers ago, and uncovered a nest of six copperheads at a public park once, but I’d never had to shoot two copperheads at night.
So I was more nervous than usual when killing a snake.
Lesson number one. Mentally and emotionally prepare to face multiple snake threats in the dark. Never assume it’s just one, and don’t let multiple snakes intimidate you at night.
The other problem was that this snake was not quite an adult. It had a very thin, whip-like body and moved like lightning. The fact that I had to kick both Digger and our other Aussie Shepherd mix Oreo, who weighs over 100 pounds, out of the way while trying aim a pistol at a slithering, wriggling reptile about as thick as a magic marker contributed to the difficulty level.
It ain’t no good shooting the snake if you shoot your dog in the process.
On the first shot, I was threading the revolver’s muzzle in between the frantic dogs and aiming at the fast moving target in the weak glow of the porch light. I got just a few pellets of the shotshell into the snake’s body, and that was way down the tail. That meant all I had left in the gun were 5 Speer Gold Dots, which aren’t the best for snake shooting.
The copperhead slithered across our wooden walkway twice, very close to my bare feet, which added to my adrenaline level.
Lesson number two. From now on, always put on shoes when answering a snake call, especially at night.
Silly me thought this snake would go down with one quick shot, like the most of the others, but no matter how many times I pulled the trigger, the sucker just kept on going.
I shot the Colt dry, and ran into the house for a Remington 870 and some bird shot. Digger got bit when I left the scene for the shotgun, as I found him writhing in the grass, clawing at his mouth when I returned.
Lesson number three. From now on, call Digger into the house before attempting to engage the snake. Digger’s too old and slow to handle snake fights any more. He’s a liability now, not a helper.
By then, the snake had coiled up right next to a big flat rock bordering a flower bed up against the house.
It’s a delicate juggling act to aim an 870 at a small snake, while trying to not put any pellets onto the flat-rock ricochet maker it’s coiled against, and also not shoot the flowers, not shoot the house, while trying to kick a100-pound dog out of the way, and not step on a smaller dog that’s gagging and thrashing around your feet.
But I got a good hit on that snake. I was so close to him that the shot pattern didn’t open up very much, and the shot column cut him in half.
Even then, the head half kept striking at Oreo, as the lower half of the snake wriggled around in the crepe myrtles. So I racked the pump, took aim again, and atomized the still-biting head with the second shot.
Once I got back from transporting Digger 25 miles to the emergency animal clinic, I examined the two halves of the headless copperhead. I found two very neat .38 caliber holes along the body. I had hit the bugger twice with the Gold Dots, but its body was so slim and insubstantial that the hollow points just punched right on through and failed to expand until they hit dirt underneath it.
Lesson number four. With snakes, high velocity hollow points designed for much bigger critters are the wrong medicine.
Three nights ago, I shot the fourth snake of 2010 under the back porch, and this one went easy. I was calm, wearing shoes, and Digger was inside the house, yapping frantically and clawing at the door, but safely out of the way. The .38 shotshell peppered it nicely all along the front third of its body, and I flung the dead but still writhing reptile into the woods.
A SIG Copperhead would be really cool and symbolically appropriate for my snake gun, but probably just not practical. I don’t think anyone makes shotshells for .380, and Digger’s overnight stay at the vet clinic and his meds are going to cost me almost half of SIG’s MSRP of $699.