Lately, as I go up to check on my Project Budburst site on Apex trail, I have met a lot of people with golf clubs. Since there are no putting greens on the trail, I have to assume that the clubs are brought along for another reason. The only reason I can think of is that they are long and have a heavy end – they are clubs – to be used in defense. I doubt that the golf clubs are to be used against other people. Nor do I think that a coyote would get within striking distance of a human with a club. A mountain lion? Maybe. But by the time a mountain lion strikes, it is too late to swing a club effectively.
The only animal on Apex trail that I can think of that could be beaten off with a club is a rattlesnake.
The foothills and plateaus of Colorado are excellent rattlesnake habitat. Rattlesnake young are born in late summer, and so there might be a lot of little snakes around. There is a rumor that little rattlesnakes produce more venom than big ones; while that is up for debate, little rattlesnakes evidently do strike more quickly and more often than their larger brethren. And being bitten by a rattler is a bad thing: it will make you sick at the least, and in rare instances, it could kill you.
But let’s keep the threat in perspective – rattlesnakes are in much more danger from you than you are from it.
Given half a chance, a rattlesnake will slither away long before you see it. There is no reason for it to stick around. It can’t eat you and you have the definite potential to kill it. People love to whack snakes. Evidently, with golf clubs.
Now, I could tell you all the reasons that you shouldn’t kill snakes – that they eat mice, rats and other small critters, that they have a place in the ecosystem, all that.
But consider this: National Public Radio recently reported that many snakes in South Dakota no longer have a rattle. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=216924322 So many have been killed after people have heard the buzzing alert that only those who have lost the ability to rattle are surviving. We are selecting for rattlesnakes that no longer have the ability to warn us of their danger.
Which would you rather have: a venomous snake that politely warns you when you enter it’s comfort zone? Or one that can’t?
Don’t kill the snake.
Freeze, check to make sure that there are no snakes behind you and slowly back away.
Better yet, be aware of where you put your hands and feet, and keep your dog on a leash so that it doesn’t put it’s muzzle in the snake’s strike zone.
And everybody will live happily ever after.
A Natural History Of Trail Ridge Road
Listen Here to CPR Interview