Looking a ‘rattler in the eyes

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Last Sunday’s meanderings in this space brought reader responses on two subjects I wrote about: timber rattlesnakes and wade fishing while wearing chest waders.

I wrote about Carroll Blevins and John Dixon killing that huge rattlesnake while squirrel hunting with me on a ridge in Greenup County.

It happened on land owned by my wife Bonnie’s brother, the late Al Mercer.

I knew there were vipers in that country but I hadn’t told John or Carroll about them. They both expressed a fear of snakes –as most people do – and I was sure they would not go into the woods if they knew there were snakes there.

Most people – hunters especially – look for snakes when they’re walking through eastern Kentucky or southern Ohio woods. The timber rattlers, as well as copperheads, are here, and in some areas more prevalent than others.

Rattlers average only about three feet in length, but some reach more than six feet.

The one John and Carroll killed measured 54 inches, was as big around as a man’s forearm, weighed six pounds, and had 16 rattles on its tail.

By virtue of their large size, timber rattlers are the most dangerous snakes in northeastern America.

Thankfully, though, most of them are mild in disposition – unless threatened – and make little attempt to rattle or strike.

It is believed to have lived in at least 25 Ohio counties prior to 1800.

Today, the timber rattlesnake is listed as an endangered species by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and is known for sure to exist in only seven Ohio counties.

To kill one in Ohio can bring a hefty fine.

Not so in Kentucky.

Someone brought me a photo last week of one that was killed after being discovered under a shopping cart in the parking lot of a Greenup store.


Al Mercer’s son, Danny Mercer, after reading last Sunday’s column, told me the story of the rattler killed by his father.

“I was eight or nine years old, and I have a picture somewhere of me holding that snake out from me,” said the retired school teacher.

Al Mercer had headed up the hollow behind his house to go squirrel hunting. It was not quite good daylight yet. A tree had fallen out in front of him. It was suspended above the ground, about head high.

As he started to duck to go under the tree, he came face to face with a timber rattler!

It was in the fallen tree. It was very close, looking him in the eyes. He was so startled that he fell backwards, discharging his shotgun at the snake as he did so.

When he got up he didn’t see the snake. He headed back to the house for another cup of coffee.

When it was daylight, he made his way back to the fallen tree, looking for the snake, gun ready.

The thing that alerted him was the sound of flies buzzing. He looked and saw the snake coiled and waiting near the roots of the uprooted tree. He shot and killed it.

He discovered his earlier shot had torn the snake’s tail almost completely off, making it impossible to sound off a warning with its 13 rattles. The hungry flies were trying to feed on the wound.


The main subject of last week’s column concerned the danger of anglers stream fishing with chest waders on and suddenly stepping into water deep enough to overflow the waders, filling them, and dragging the fisherman down, perhaps downing him.

John Vinson Euton and his son, Aaron, were fishing Canada waters. Vinson had chest waders on, wading into the lake from shore. He suddenly hit a drop-off and found himself floundering as his chest waders quickly filled.

“I didn’t know that you should wear a belt around those waders that could slow them in filling if the water came over the top, giving you time to get out,” Vinson said.

“Aaron was about 15 feet away, and when I started yelling for help he first thought I was just joking around. But the water was up under my chin and the waders were pulling me down. I couldn’t get out. I was drowning. Aaron finally realized what was happening and came and helped me out of there.”


Thank goodness for teachers who strive to build an interest among young people to read books. What a joy for life can be found when we lose ourselves in the pages of a good book.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) knew something of this pleasure and treasure when she wrote her poem, titled simply:


“He ate and drank the precious words,

His spirit grew robust;

He knew no more that he was poor,

Nor that his frame was dust.

He danced along the dingy days,

And this bequest of wings

Was but a book. What liberty

A loosened spirit brings.”

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected] His web page is gsampiattbooks.com.

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