It pays to be alert for snakes in the Hill Country

Sept 23, 2017
Mike Leggett
Rattlesnakes such as this one are everywhere in the Hill Country, even though we have very few bites in the course of a year. The snakes don’t want to bite humans and won’t unless they are threatened or surprised. However, a rattler living under an air-conditioning unit beside the house is just a little too close for comfort for most people. MIKE LEGGETT PHOTO

It all started as a pretty routine call for help with a clinking air-conditioning unit at our house.

Jones Heating and Air sent out Michael St. Cricq, and before he even got to the unit, he said, “I see what your problem is already,” pointing to a short wire connector that was hanging down and hitting the rotating fan.

That was good news, since replacing a clanging unit or compressor fan wasn’t really in the budget for this year, especially after the fire we had earlier in the spring.

He laid his tool backpack on the ground next to our big downstairs unit and walked back to his truck for something else. I stood there like a dummy, thinking, “Man, this feels like a rattlesnake day.”

So I began looking around, thinking about the snakes we’ve seen hiding under bushes close to the house. This spot was in the morning shade on the west side of the house, behind a small wooden fence off the front porch.

I looked around my feet and then moved my gaze back to the concrete pedestals holding the two units. The small one was clear, but lying just under the edge of the large unit, within 2 feet of where I’d been standing a moment before and no more than a foot from the top of the backpack, lay a pretty large Western diamondback, coiled and ready for action. Four feet of snake in a tight ball.

Warning St. Cricq to stay clear, I went back in the house to get a shotgun to take care of the snake. On the way back outside, I grabbed a trekking pole I keep beside the front door and went back around the corner of the house.

“He went back under the unit while you were gone,” Michael said. “But I can still see him just a little bit.”

I looked, and there was obviously a rattler stretched out along one edge of the unit.

I handed the pole to St. Cricq, who admitted to having a healthy fear of snakes, and asked him to prod the snake in hopes he would come out of the hiding place. He did almost immediately. I caught him about midbody with the bottom of the pole and dragged him out into the yard, away from the house.

He coiled up there in a defensive posture, and the .410 shotgun made easy work of his head. Only when going through his death throes did the snake rattle, just a little buzz to remind us of what he was.

I’m still reliving that event, especially the quiet way that snake was lying there, obviously looking for rats and mice scurrying past on the ground. The fact that he crawled back under the unit when we got close also told me he’d most likely been there for a while, even while my dog and I were walking past many times.

He could have spent the winter there with no problems, pulling some residual heat off the unit as it worked to keep the house cool and finding a ready supply of rodents around the yard. Even though he was mostly black, the rattler blended in amazingly well with the gray concrete pedestal under the unit.

That’s what makes rattlesnakes so scary here in the Hill Country. They live right in among us and can be very dangerous to small children and pets when they’re lying in flower beds and shrubbery and under bushes. They don’t want to bite us, but sometimes they will just by virtue of being afraid or surprised.

I know some people wonder why the snake had to die. We can’t have them living in the house or right next to it because of grandkids and dogs. Otherwise, I just let them go on their way and hope another one doesn’t come to take his place.

But the next time there’s rattling in my air conditioner, I’m going to take a close look before I go standing next to the unit.