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Buzz surrounding rattlesnakes comes with a spine-tingling warning

You know the sound. Even if you’ve never heard it before, you know it, in a primal, fight-or-flight part of your lizard brain.

There’s something about the buzz of a big South Texas rattlesnake that sends a shiver down the spine. We instinctively move away from it at first, then toward it as we want to see where it’s coming from.

This one, this buzzing that’s directed at my springer spaniel Ceilidh and fellow hunter Justin Hedgecock, is coming from just outside the breezeway to the headquarters at Rancho Encantado.

We’ve had several cold days of hunting down here, followed by a quick warm-up just after Thanksgiving, a perfect time for snakes to be on the move again. When this happens, you usually see them in the afternoon. You just don’t expect to see them in the flower bed.

That’s where this one is, though, along with another one two days later that cut Hedgecock off from the kitchen area of the house. And then there was the one that Trey Carpenter and I nearly stepped on the day before New Year’s Eve.

That third snake was coming away from the house, leaving a crooked track through the soft grass in the yard. He never rattled at us, just lay there in the grass, spread out to look larger to us and waiting for someone to walk over him.

And even though our weather has been cold and clear overnight, Texans with brains will be watching closely for rattlesnakes during the next few weeks.

Texas rattlesnakes don’t hibernate; they just go into an extended period of torpor, usually underground or in a log or under a house or some other place where they have some protection from extreme cold but also have quick access to the outside, where they can claim some afternoon sun to warm them and give them energy. They will feed if it’s convenient, and they will launch a defensive attack if you mess with them.

Or if your dog does. That’s why I was glad that Ceilidh was separated from the first snake by a screened porch. There are people around who will “snakeproof” your dogs by giving them an electric shock as they approach and stir up a rattlesnake that’s been rendered unable to bite, but I haven’t done that with her, though she’s due this summer before dove season.

She has received the rattlesnake vaccine, designed to give owners time to get their dogs to a vet by mitigating the severity of the bite. Those are given on an annual basis, and for around $30, dog owners can get some measure of protection for their animals.

I helped ranch manager Cade Green capture two of the snakes, using snake tongs and putting them into a safe box where they could be transported to a remote part of the ranch and released. “I think we may have a den under that corner of the house,” he said, since all three snakes came from the same small area.

They have a pretty good built-in GPS, though, and could make their way back in time, something to think about when you have snakes at your house. Rattlesnakes have been persecuted beyond belief in Texas, from roundups in which thousands are killed to using gasoline to bomb dens and drive them out to full-on carnage as they cross roads and highways.

But they are too neat an animal to drive away completely, and they’ve shown themselves to be resilient and grand survivors, as they should be. Nobody wants to be bitten or have it happen to a family member, but the snakes are just being snakes, even when they bite.

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