Snake Safety: What to Do in a Rattlesnake Encounter

May 15, 2013

As soon as the warmer weather hits, we’re chomping at the bit to get out there and enjoy all of the sunshine and adventure that summertime in the Black Hills can bring. However, just as roses have thorns, so do the Black Hills carry their own personal brand of danger: the dreaded rattlesnake encounter.

Western South Dakotan rattlesnakes are known as “Prairie Rattlesnakes,” or Crotalus viridis. By early to mid-May, these slithering creatures begin straying from their dens in search of food, water, mates, and temporary shelter—likewise, your chance of a rattlesnake encounter increases during this time, as well as in October. Prairie Rattlesnakes can be found away from their overwintering areas throughout spring and fall: the temperate rattler seasons.

Prairie Rattlesnakes inhabit all areas of Western South Dakota – from the prairies (naturally) and the Badlands, to the top of Harney Peak—but this doesn’t mean that you should hide in your house when the weather is nice and the hiking trails are calling. You can protect yourself from the threat of the rattlesnake with these helpful snake safety tips:


If you’re alone out there on the trail, make sure you have a cell phone with you in case of emergencies. However, if you’re bitten in an area of the Hills with limited cell phone service, the buddy system might be your only saving grace. This is the number one key to snake safety.


The Prairie Rattlesnake is the only injurious snake found in western South Dakota—any other slithering specimen you come across is harmless to humans. Therefore, another fundamental key to snake safety while out and about in the Black Hills is identification.

The Prairie Rattlesnake is best identified by the rattling sound it resonates. While out hiking, keep your ears open and alert for that unmistakable sound. Visually, watch out for a rattle (of course), brown and tan coloring, a thicker body, and a flat, triangular head. It’s best to identify by sound first, before your rattlesnake encounter brings you close enough for visual identification…

prairie rattlesnake head


 Rattlesnakes are not aggressive creatures. If you end up crossing one while trekking around in the great outdoors, it is best to just leave him alone…and DON’T PANIC.


…again, don’t panic. The faster your heart rate, the quicker the venom will move through your bloodstream. Stay calm by regulating your breath. Walk slowly towards help, don’t run, and try to call for assistance if you’re alone and your cell phone gets reception. The key is to get to an emergency room as quickly as possible without quickening your pulse.

How do we cohabitate with the Prairie Rattlesnake? By respecting their space, steering clear of their domain, and heeding the telltale signs of a rattle that feels threatened by our presence.

The most obvious snake safety tip you can heed in order to avoid an unfortunate rattlesnake encounter is to remain constantly aware that they are out there—sunning their cold-blooded bodies in the summer heat, minding their own business. You best course of action while out hiking is to stay alert and mind yours.

About the Palmer Gulch Resort

The Black Hills provide ample opportunities for outdoor sports, sightseeing excursions, and outdoor adventures. All year long, the Palmer Gulch Resort is here to serve as your home away from home. To learn more about Palmer Gulch Resort, or to make a reservation, visit our website at or call 1-800-562-8503. Information packets are available for group gatherings, as well as GPS directions and maps of the area.

Last Modified: 06/25/2014 12:22:02 pm MDT