The slow morning turned to afternoon as I flipped a dark spinner bait into the shimmering distance on Lake Meredith.
Like so many previous retrieves from the bank, I brought my lure back without even a nibble from a hungry largemouth or smallmouth bass and stepped along the low-slung brush in search of another likely hiding spot for a lunker.
Only this time, I plopped a tennis shoe right next to one of the largest snakes I’ve ever laid eyes upon — and it was none too happy to be disturbed. As I recoiled in disbelief, the hefty serpent that seemed to be as long as I was tall began hissing hoarsely. It flared its head out, something I’d only seen cobras do on TV, and slowly rose a foot off the ground.
I knew I hadn’t been bitten, but I nonetheless shivered as the snake cautiously withdrew its puffed-up bravado and leisurely slinked away, but not before I could snap a few shots with a pocket camera.
After a couple of minutes, I gathered my thoughts and went back to fishing, making sure any place I stepped had nothing but clover-high vegetation at best after that.
When I got home, I realized the culprit was an eastern hognose snake — a non-venomous variety that has more bark than bite. It is a snake that makes itself look much more scary than it really appears, and like possums, will even play dead to escape being eaten.
Texas spring hunting means you’re not alone
It doesn’t matter whether you’re hunting turkeys or strolling through the woods to admire spring flowers, you’re in critter country. And this year’s relatively mild winter in many places means there will be a bumper crop of biting, stingy little monsters waiting.
Ticks and chiggers certainly can be itchy and irritating, but they also can carry diseases. Most bug-borne diseases start with flu-like symptoms, including chills, fever, headache and body ache. But instead of passing like the flu, symptoms can get much worse.
Lyme disease is the most frequently diagnosed tick-borne problem in the United States and may produce skin lesions or rashes. Untreated Lyme disease can produce severe damage to the joints, heart and nervous system.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever and human ehrlichiosis, also spread by infected ticks, can create a measles-like rash and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. Wear insect-repellent containing DEET to keep bugs away and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants with the cuffs tucked into your boots. Also, wear light-colored clothes and treat clothing with repellent containing permethrin.
Use common sense and don’t wade through tall grass, especially in the dark, and don’t put any of your limbs in places an animal or insect could hide. Get help if you are bitten by a snake or other creature and go to the hospital as soon as possible. Certainly be aware of signs indicating serious illness.
Plague is common in rodent populations of West Texas and can be transmitted to people by fleas or by direct contact with infected animals such as prairie dogs, squirrels, cats, rats and mice. Without immediate medical attention, plague can be deadly.
Mosquitoes also can be hazardous.
Encephalitis is an infection of the central nervous system caused by one of several mosquito-borne viruses and producing intense headache, high fever, nausea, muscle tenderness, partial or nearly complete unconsciousness and even coma.
If you discover you have become a feast for a tick, be careful. A tick that’s already attached itself needs special attention. Instead of jerking it out, use tweezers to grab the head at the skin and pull firmly until it releases, and treat the bite with an antibiotic.
After you’ve spent time outdoors, be aware that if you start feeling like you’re coming down with the flu, see a doctor. Those symptoms may indicate something more serious.
Texas spring hunting and snakes
Besides bugs, there are bigger biting critters out there. Raccoons or skunks may carry rabies, but you can’t tell by looking at it whether an overly aggressive varmint is carrying rabies. However, raccoons and skunks often are carriers, so keep your distance from any that don’t run away. If a varmint happens to bite or scratch you, get medical help as soon as possible.
While the previous snake encounter I discussed was with a non-venomous species, there are ones out there that can do you severe harm.
A friend was dove hunting one fall afternoon when he reached down to pick up a drink and came back with a 4-foot prairie rattler dangling from his hand wringing its fangs into his tissue. When he tried to fling the snake off, it shot around and dug into his forearm, getting even more venom into his system. After a couple of days at the hospital that included getting violently ill, my friend was released.
I’m sure he’ll never put his hands anywhere without checking at least a few times.
Snake-proof footwear is handy for not only avoiding a serpent problem but also warding off cactus, which is another souvenir that could cause problems should it burrow in deep and cause an infection.
If a snake bites you, remain calm and get to an emergency room immediately. If possible, call ahead so the ER can get antivenom lined up. Even in prime rattler country, some hospitals don’t keep it on hand.
There are plenty of things that can bite back in the spring woods, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the spectacular sights and sounds this time of year.
Just watch where you step!