Friday, November 9, 2012

Kristy McCaffrey-Guest from Arizona

by Kristy McCaffrey

Three years ago my family and I moved to the desert north of Phoenix and one of the many aspects to which we had to adjust was the presence of rattlesnakes. Because our property buffers an open area of desert belonging to the city, we get a fair amount of wildlife (coyotes, javelina, bobcats) as well as snakes that wander onto our land. Most are non-poisonous—bull and garter snakes—but we’ve also encountered and caught a good number of rattlers. In this area the prevalent species is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. It blends well into its surroundings, with a dirt-colored hide, but does have one outstanding feature which helps with a swift identification. On its tail, just below the rattle, are one to two inches of black and white stripes.

In the summer, when it’s very hot, snakes gravitate toward water, so puddles can pose a problem. We found a young rattler near the house this way. My husband captured and placed it into an empty (RS in jar)apple juice bottle. We then deposited the snake off-property. We’ve been told that rattlers will live within a one mile territory; because we have dogs and children we prefer to relocate the snakes. The other alternative is to kill them, which many of our neighbors do. Not only is this dangerous (to kill one you must get close to it—distance is always the safest course of action when dealing with a poisonous reptile) but I also feel it’s unnecessary. Western Diamondbacks aren’t very aggressive unless threatened. And even then they’ll slither away the first chance they get.

            This was apparent when one of our chocolate labs, Lily, encountered a rattler during a walk in the desert. It lay coiled and when she poked her nose at it the snake struck. Luckily she pulled back just in time to avoid a bite. Just as quickly the snake turned and slithered into a bush, rattling it’s pathetic rattle (nothing like in the movies).

            My husband and older son often ride motorcycles and quads in the desert and have come across rattlesnakes on the trails several times. Sometimes they can pass but often are forced to turn back. Rattlesnakes tend to enjoy their moments of sunning and simply won’t move unless pressed. In the winter months it’s never a good idea to be out in the desert during the day since the snakes will be warming themselves from the cold night. And during the summer, dusk is a dangerous time since they’ll be out after staying in the shade of a bush for the better part of the day. Initially we had the false impression that rattlesnakes hibernate but have come to learn this isn’t true. They can be out and about year round.

We’ve found big rattlers on our driveway twice on chilly winter nights, likely soaking up the warmth of the concrete. My husband has a long metal snake catcher, which he uses to capture the reptile and then lift it into a large garbage bin. We then load the can on the back of our pickup truck and drive it to a portion of the desert far from our house for release.
I must admit I don’t fear rattlesnakes as much as I did when we first arrived. I have a healthy respect for them, scan my surroundings at all times, and don’t walk outside barefoot. We keep a close eye on our dogs during walks. It’s also important to keep the property clear of clutter, to minimize hiding places.

            Still, we had one in the backyard the other day, despite it being completely fenced in. My mother happened to discover it. As she sat by the pool, reading a book and enjoying a break in the heat, she heard a low, quiet rattle. She didn’t think it was a snake, but then noticed that our dogs as well as hers (four in all) had surrounded something and were on full alert. The snake stood its ground, only because it had to, against the dogs. She quickly got all the animals inside without incident and my 18-year-old son wrangled the snake into the garbage bin and sent it on another relocation program. Maybe if we move enough of them they’ll breed elsewhere!

            Now, if we could just get rid of the scorpions...
BIO: Kristy McCaffrey

Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn't until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. A fascination with science led her to earn two engineering degrees--she did her undergraduate work at Arizona State University and her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh--but storytelling was always her favorite hobby. Born and raised in Arizona, and recently returned after a 20 year absence in Pittsburgh, she writes Old West romances to capture the landscapes that were such a big part of her childhood. Her first novel "The Wren" was a CAPA winner for best new author traditional, a Texas Gold finalist, and a HOLT Medallion finalist for best first book. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband,
four children, and two chocolate labs, Ranger and Lily.
Posted by: Celia Yeary 


  1. Kristy, you are very ecologically conscious to relocate the snakes. I hate to kill anything, but we do copperheads which had nested under out front porch. Water moccasins will attach, and one killed a friend's dog. We now have a rat snake living under the front porch, and I'm happy to welcome him to keep down mice. Unfortunately, they also kill some things we like. We mostly have a live and let live policy.

  2. Caroline,
    You get some nasty critters as well! I usually welcome the bull snakes because they'll eat the scorpions (the birds eat them too) but our house is so busy that they leave after a few days. I hate to kill anything but since the scorpions often make it into the house I'm afraid they meet their demise when I catch them.

  3. Good morning, Kristy--We're happy to have you back at SOTW. I know your novels are doing well, and they are as unique as you are--one of a kind.
    Living in Central Texas in the hills, we do have scorpians galore. Not as many as when we first moved into the house 22 years ago, but a newly constructed house will invariable harbor scorpians. We still get them in the house, but not often since we took a few more precautions.
    My grandsons from Michigan, when they were younger, couldn't wait to come to Texas to find rattlesnakes and scorpians. Never found a rattlesnake, but they did encounter a couple of scorpians--enough for stories to tell!
    Have a great day---

  4. I respect you and your family for relocating the rattlesnakes rather than ending their lives. As much as I might be afraid of them, they have a place and purpose in the world.
    I noticed all of your books have birds. What's that about? Is it a type of signature or are you a birg entusiast?
    I really liked your article and wish you the very best.

  5. Celia,
    Thanks for having me back at SOTW. This is such a great place for all things western! We use sticky pads around the house (at all the door thresholds) as well as in the garage. These really help catch the scorpions. Of course they catch other things too, some of which I try to free (birds, non-poisonous snakes, lizards, mice, tarantulas).

  6. Hi Sarah,
    I do love birds and each of books revolves around that particular bird in some way. In THE WREN it represents the heroine finding her way home (rock wrens leave a trail of rocks to find their nest). In THE DOVE it has several meanings--soiled doves (the heroines mother runs a brothel), wounded spirit of the heroine (with religious overtones). In THE SPARROW the theme is finding nobility out of a common place--the heroine undergoes a shamanic initiation in the Grand Canyon and her spirit animal is a sparrow.

  7. I could deal with the other wildlife you get but rather not deal with rattlers. Or spiders or scorpions. Bet you get some of those too.

  8. Charlene,
    Yes we seem to get a little bit of everything! I'm accustomed to it now but admit I still get the heebeejeebees sometimes. :-)

  9. I have to say you take living with those critters a whole lot better than I would.

    My brother spent time at George AFB in Victorville, CA. That area was prone to scorpions too. He said you learn to shake out your shoes and slippers before putting your foot in.

    No thanks....while there are poisonous snakes in NC, I haven't personally met one..I don't think I would enjoy living in an area where they live enmass.

  10. Kristy, We are now experiencing watching for Rattlesnakes at our property in eastern Oregon. We don't relocate them, we kill them. So far we've encounter six and killed four. The two that got away were ones I came across and by the time I found a shovel or caught my husband's attention they were gone. And here they do hibernate. We can get up to a foot of snow on our high desert.

    Fun information on the rattlesnake in your area.


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