November 17, 2012

Rattlesnake den provides a day of adventure

An old drawing of rattlesnake

It wasn't much of a hike, walking across a small portion of eastern Oregon, looking for "a large boulder" at which point we were told to "take a right." We had no idea whose property we were on, and knowing we were trespassing, watched carefully for anyone who might have a rifle aimed at us.

The evening before, we had left Oregon City and headed east in Shifty's Cadillac, a rig not actually known for adventure, but a cruiser that added a little touch of class to our journey- something we severely lacked. Some seven hours later and at 2:00 am, we beached that boat in Richland, Oregon, roughly 350 miles from where we started.
Map of Oregon highlighting Baker County
Map of Oregon highlighting Baker County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Greeting us at his door was Bob. Bob was probably in his early seventies and was about as eccentric, but comically so, as they come. You never knew whether what was coming out of Bob’s mouth was the truth or a tall tale. He had grown up in Richland, moved around for a good portion of his life, and then landed back in this berg near the Idaho border. He carried a large wallet that housed a small pistol inside it, which would come in handy if ever a thief asked him to give up his wallet.  

After a few hours of shut-eye, we woke up and, while downing some Joe, discussed what we were in for that day. Bob's hip had been giving him some trouble, or so he said, so he informed us he would not be guiding us to our destination. Instead, he led us in his rig out into the countryside, showed us where to park and pointed into the general direction we were to hike.

There were no "No Trespassing" signs, but climbing over a fence is usually a good indication that you're on someone else's land. Bob had assured us that journeying across this ranch land was not a problem, that he knew the landowner. Only problem was is Bob wasn't making the trek with us. After climbing over the fence, we proceeded down an old cow path, looking for a "big boulder" Bob had directed us toward.

Eventually we came upon that big boulder. It wasn't hard to find, sitting out in the middle of a field, begging the question, "How did it get there?" From the boulder we hiked east to where the field sloped down to a small creek we were looking for. In all, the hike was probably only about one mile.

We readied our fishing poles as we crept across a field of boulders about half the size of a football field. The rocks at our feet ran from about the size of softballs up to bowling balls. Some were larger. We stood and looked out over the rocks, realizing we had found the spot.

It didn't take long to see our first catch. About 20 feet away, we could see a snake sunning itself on the rocks. Likewise, it saw us approach and slithered away, but not before we saw the rattles on its tail. Then and there we knew it would be a good day.

Our fishing poles had been customized into snares using coated wire. Beyond the tip of the poles we tied a loop with a slip knot and ran the wire through the eyelets of the pole. At the casting end of the pole the wire ended. From there we could pull on the wire to tighten the loop around a snake.

We noticed while walking across the snake den we could hear the rattle of the snakes when we got close to them, but we couldn't see them. They were hidden in the cracks of the rocks below our feet, out of sight. We tried a while longer to sneak up on a few that had crawled out to sun themselves, but they too slithered away before we could reach them. So, we began to pick throughthe rocks from where we heard rattling.

This, obviously, presented us with an entirely different level of risk. We joked about how an easy way to catch one would be to simply lift it out of the rocks after it had latched onto our hand.

Eventually, we did find a rattler hiding within the rocks, coiled up ready to strike, grabbed it with a snare and placed it in a burlap bag. As the morning progressed, more snakes appeared and rattled as we walked over them. After a few hours we had caught several snakes, letting some go and keeping others. We were like two kids in a candy store. Bob had certainly turned us on to a prime place to hunt rattlers.

The hunt was rated immensely successful by both of us. We hiked back to the Cadillac and drove back to Bob’s house, with us our bag of snakes.

When we walked in, Bob’s head and shoulders were in the freezer portion of his refrigerator. Lying about the kitchen were coffee cans, stuffed with snakes. When Bob caught a snake, he would place them in a can and put them in the freezer. This killed the snakes without harming their skins.

Apparently, he had put a snake in the freezer without first placing it in a can. He finally found it frozen behind the ice cube maker.

That evening, Bob showed us how to skin the snakes and prepare their skins.

The next morning, Shifty and I headed home with a couple of rattle snakes we decided to keep alive. We ran out of gas between Richland and Baker City and had to hitchhike to get some gas. A county sheriff stopped to see what we had in the trunk while we filled the Caddy with gas. For some reason, he thought we were deer poachers. When he asked to look in the trunk, Shifty and I looked at each other and snickered. We only told him there were rattlesnakes in the trunk when he reached down toward the burlap bag.

Ahh. Good times!  
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