Killing snakes with an airgun
by B.B. Pelletier
This is not your normal posting, because I don’t usually discuss killing critters with airguns. That’s not going to change, but a question last week prompted me to write this one post. A reader asked if there was a good semiauto pellet gun for under $100 that he might use to kill venomous snakes. Of course, there is no semiauto pellet rifle for less than $100 and even if there was, it wouldn’t be the thing for hunting snakes. What you want is a single-shot breakbarrel.
What I’m about to share with you, I had discovered 30 years ago and have used it successfully ever since. I’ve killed many snakes, venomous and otherwise, with this tip – every one was a one-shot instant kill.
When I was a young man, I went on a camping trip in northern California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness Area with two friends. In those days (mid-1960s) the roads were unpaved, and it really WAS a wilderness area. We camped for four days and never saw another human being. But, I did almost step on a Pacific rattler in a creekbed!
The snake was a young one and his rattles were so high-pitched that he sounded like a large hornet. When I discovered him, he was three feet away and reared up to strike. I drew my M1911 Colt (in California, no less!) and let fly with a full clip, but the bullets all went through his thick body without stopping him. Alright, I MIGHT have missed once or twice. The final shot cut him in two behind the head, and he was finished. But I wasn’t! I shook for 10 minutes, because we were a day’s hike from our car and another day’s drive from the nearest town! We had snakebite kits, but I had no desire to see how well they worked.
About six years later, I was maneuvering with my cavalry unit in the desert at Fort Bliss when another rattler reared up in the middle of the trail. This time, I was in a jeep and again armed with a Colt automatic, but I also had a cheap .22 revolver with me. I had the driver stop about 15 feet from the snake, and I took aim at the snake’s head. When the shot went off I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hit the snake between his eyes! I was a pretty good shot in those days, but not that good!
It dawned on me that the snake had played a part in the shot, too. I started killing snakes with a breakbarrel pellet rifle. My best shot was 20 feet without using the sights! I couldn’t use them because there were none on the gun, but I had learned a secret about snakes and guns.
Apparently a snake lines up to face a threat head-on if possible. They do it so accurately that if you give them a few seconds, they will line up on the muzzle of your pellet rifle (or pistol, but don’t use a pistol unless it has at least 20 foot-pounds). I have eliminated quite a few snakes since learning that trick and every one was shot between the eyes. All were instant kills. I might get lucky once in a lifetime, but never as often as I have. I’ve had help from the snakes.
Let’s talk about safety. Some snakes are aggressive and move too fast to use this method. In the U.S., the water moccasin (cottonmouth) is one such snake. They will charge you aggressively, not leaving time to aim properly. Rattlesnakes are usually less aggressive, but don’t bet your life on it. Avoid them if you can. My experience has been with Pacific rattlers and diamondbacks. The diamondbacks are aggressive, but they normally don’t charge unless you scare them. Non-venomous water snakes can be pretty aggressive when you get too close. Although they don’t have venom, they can draw blood. (Any snakebite, venomous or not, can easily become infected and should be treated immediately.)
Finally let’s remember that most non-venomous snakes are creatures that benefit the ecology. Black snakes get rid of pests, and common garter snakes are as gentle as mice when handled gently in return. Some snakes, such as the California king snake, eat venomous snakes.
So don’t go on a witch hunt for snakes with your newfound knowledge. But, if you have a few bad guys living under the porch, now you know what you can do.
Remember to check your state laws. You could be fined for killing a venomous snake that your state has decided to protect.