Throwback Thursday—Snake Guns

By CTD Blogger published on in Firearms

Throughout recorded human history, man has feared snakes. And, for the most part, rightfully so. Silent, deadly, and occasionally prone to aggressive unprovoked attacks, vipers and various other venomous snakes have a more or less permanent place on many people’s list of varmints to kill on sight. Traditionally, a short break-action shotgun chambered in 20-gauge or .410 bore is the standard for dispatching serpents. Prior to that, a well-placed blow from a garden hoe or a shovel quickly ended a viper. Now there are many options to quickly and safely deal with snakes. Choices range from traditional short-barreled shotguns to various Derringers along with new modern shotshell-firing revolvers.

The invention of the Derringer gave people the option of a small, easily portable handgun capable of inflicting devastating damage at close range. Normally found tucked away in a lady’s garter, or hidden in a gambler’s boot, these small holdout guns were not used for killing snakes. Early models were mostly rimfire affairs, with larger calibers coming initially in black powder .38 Special and .45 Colt loads. Soon, smokeless powder was developed allowing an even larger variety of Derringer offerings. As designers introduced more and more calibers to various Derringer designs, specifically with the advent of pistol caliber shotshells—namely the .410 bore, developed around 1900—it was discovered these little shooters made excellent snake guns.

Taurus Judge with black grip and silver frame on a white background, barrel pointed to the left.

Loaded with .45 Long Colt, a .410 shotshell or Winchester’s PDX1 Defender makes the Judge a formidable survival gun.

While the origin of the .410 shotshell is not very well-known, a good indication of its heritage is the fact that it shares the same chamber size as the .45 Long Colt. This interchangeability drove the popularity of the .410 shell and soon every major revolver and Derringer manufacturer offered pistols advertised as firing .45 Colt along with the .410. This still persists today and is seeing resurgence in popularity with the Judge line of revolvers made by Taurus.

Chambered in both .45 Colt and .410, or as with the Raging Judge, .454 Casull, .45 Colt, or .410, the Taurus Judge sets the standard as the snake gun of choice. Advertised as the perfect trail gun, the Taurus Judge is indeed versatile enough to take small game, snakes and varmints when firing a .410 load, or take medium game with a .45 Colt or .454 Casull using the Raging Judge. Available with a 3-inch barrel, it is small enough to tuck into a backpack or fanny pack, or carry comfortably in a holster.

While hunting early-season whitetail deer, summer feral hog or late spring turkey in the woods and fields of North Texas, nothing causes me to freeze in my tracks faster than the telltale rattle of a western diamondback rattlesnake. Most snakes hibernate in the wintertime, making them less threatening to deer hunters. However, early archery and muzzleloader season hunters can still run afoul of not only the rattlesnake, but also cottonmouths, copperheads and a number of other North American pit vipers. Cottonmouth snakes, also referred to as water moccasins, are particularly aggressive vipers and known to chase after individuals unlucky enough to cross their paths.

I remember one time I had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a cottonmouth. I was a young boy hunting frogs and turtles along the bayous of South East Texas. Forging my way through the tall summer grass along the bank and, true to form, I was not really paying attention to where I was going. I stepped on what I thought was a rock, except this rock was a little squishy and squirmed out from under my foot. As you might have guessed, this rock turned out to be a 6-foot long cottonmouth sunning itself along the banks of its favorite bayou. Luckily, this particular water moccasin was more concerned with escape than biting me and quickly slithered off with a mean hiss. That large snake put the fear of God into me, and ever since I have been particularly careful to watch for snakes when out in the woods and fields.

Nowadays, I carry a small Bond Arms Snake Slayer IV chambered in .45 Colt and .410 tucked in my hip pocket whenever I head out in the warmer months. It’s smaller than the Taurus Judge, carrying only two rounds, and for snake defense that is usually enough. Snakes are ambush predators adept at camouflage and hiding. When you encounter one it will generally be at a very close range; what I call “Oh my, that’s a SNAKE!” distance. This generally puts you anywhere from 3 to 10 feet away from the serpent, close enough to do serious damage with a .410 blast, and generally far enough away to keep you safe from a sudden strike. More than 12 feet, the pattern from a .410 shotgun load in most handguns opens up too much to make it effective for eliminating venomous snakes.

Picture shows a silver Derringer with rosewood grips.

The Bond Arms Snake Slayer IV is perfect for snake defense.

Loads for snake run the spectrum from .22 LR CCI shotshells, to full shotgun rounds such as 3″ .410 shells filled with #4 shot. What load you choose to carry depends on your firearm and what types of serpents you anticipate encounterong. .22 LR shotshells are generally going to be inadequate for all but the smallest snakes. Stepping up to the larger, yet still mild recoiling, .38 Special shotshells we find a much more effective cartridge for dealing with unwanted critters. Firing #9 shot at over 1,000 FPS, the CCI .38 Special shotshell is perfectly capable of dispatching most snakes with a single, well-placed shot. It patterns well, and while the #9 shot size is a bit on the small size, it still does the job nicely.

When it comes to snakes, however my favorite load, is the .410 shotshell. Three-inch Remington .410 shells loaded with #6 or #7.5 shot seem to have the best performance from my observations. It is big enough to have adequate penetration, but small enough to give a good pattern at 3 to 12 feet. CCI shotshells loaded with #9 shot are also available in .45 Colt. It provides better patterns than #6 or #7.5 shot, but at the expense of slightly less penetration.

So, what gun for snakes? Some use a .22 LR to great effect on snakes while my late great-grandmother insisted on a 12-gauge loaded with #6 lead. Both do the job equally well in the right hands; however, in my opinion neither are ideal. A .410/.45 Colt revolver or Derringer is small and portable while still packing a wallop. Additionally, they are cheap, abundant and easy to find. Ammunition is inexpensive for these little snake killers, making them affordable to feed and for practice. The Taurus and Snake Slayer IV are not the only choices for a snake gun. However, they are some of the least expensive and most commonly available; it would be hard to go wrong by them.

What gun do you carry in case of running into snakes? Tells us which one and why in the comment section.

This article originally appeared on March 28, 2011.

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Comments (31)

  • David

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    Would a 22. Revolver with shot shell bullets will work

    Reply

  • Loki

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    You guys forgot to mention the Circuit judge that Rossi and Taurus put out which had three color/furniture options as well as quite a few different chamber set ups some even offering several cylinders with separate caliber ranging from .22 all the way into the .454. I own the tactical black composite version in .410 .45 LC and I love it we had the snake charmer and this blows it outta the water the 5 shells tuck in back with a cover as opposed to the flip out. But as a trail gun it has been awesome and even home defense put some PDX 4 and good to go.

    Reply

  • mitchell

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    A few years back my younger brother and I went up North to South Carolina to visit my grandfather’s farm. Over supper one evening we mentioned our plans to go catfishing the following afternoon for our supper. Our grandfather warned us to be careful down at the pond as he had recently seen water moccasins (cotton mouths) in the area.
    Well my brother and I decided that after supper we would go down to the pond and see if we could spot any of the offending serpents. We took the golf cart down to the water, not really expecting to see much, and low and behold, we spotted a five or six foot long water moccasin hiding in the reeds just off the bank. We decided the viper couldn’t live, but we had left out only armed with our personal protection side arms. My brother was armed only with a kel-Tec pf9 and I was carrying my department issued Beretta 92g, so I was elected to take the shot.
    My shot was true and the evil critter’s head was cleanly removed from the rest of him. But to our horror, we realised there was a lot more than just the one we had seen. After the first snake was hit, five more rushed the bank where we were standing. We fired over and over again and managed to kill all the water moccasins with only one reaching land. In the space of seconds six snakes lay dead and our heart’s were racing at the close call we had just experienced. Yeah we were dumb, but the battle at the catfish pond still makes for an entertaining story.

    Reply

    • T-bob

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      Cottonmouths are one of the more aggressive North American Vipers and they have been known to chase people. That being said, if you expect people to believe that when you shot one snake, all of his buddies rushed towards land to attack you…..that is pure fantasy. I’ve been duck hunting in flooded rice fields since I was a kid. When you fire a round snakes tend to either remain motionless hiding, or haul ass away from the direction of the blast. While they don’t have ears, they do have pressure sensitive tympanic membranes that serve a similar function.

      Reply

  • Greg

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    as an old dumb country boy from east Texas I find that you have to kill a snake to get close enough to determine if It is a good snake or bad snake. I favor the .410 in any shape or form.

    Reply

  • albert ross

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    I am a snow bird. During summer I carry a 44 Magnum or better yet a Benelli 12 with slugs because the bears in Alaska are hungry until the salmon arrive. Spring and fall in New Mexico are rattlesnake seasons, but my Billy Mays picker upper is alI have ever needed for a rattlesnake. Too many people kill all snakes and coyotes simply because they are scared by anything wild and not under their control. New Mexico now has cases of plague and Hanta virus because the natural predators for rats and mice and their fleas are systematically being exterminated. I have had to rewire a Corvette and two generators thanks to the rat lovers because the insulation on the wires is made with vegetable and peanut oil, or so I am told. We relocate the the rattlers and keep the rest to eat the rats. Ranchers say coyotes kill and eat their stock, but none of them have any pictures so I am not convinced. Good luck to us all as every special interest tries to remake the environment to meet their own special needs.

    Reply

  • Bullet

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    I hunt, fish, camp, and hike in all types of areas and though I carry a firearm of one type or the other I have never found reason to kill a snake unless I’m going to eat it.
    To kill a snake just to kill it, for it’s rattle, or because your scared of it shows just how ignorant people are! and ignorant people with guns is much more dangerous than any snake.

    Reply

  • David2014

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    Hank, my dad liked to tell the story about how when he was still a young man… he & his father were walking down to the river bank just about dark one evening… on their way to do some catfishing.

    As they walked along the trail, they met 2 men who were cussing up a storm… headed back to their truck… and they asked my granddad if he wanted a Jon boat w/ trailer free of charge. All they had to do was get it out of the water & load it up… and it was theirs. My grandfather asked what was wrong… did it have a leak?

    The guys had let out another long streak of cussing and explained how the boat was full of cotton mouths… and how they were done with the boat. The men had said the snakes had suddenly shown-up and started coming over the sides… and as Will wrote… dropping out of the trees which over-hung the bank.

    After looking the nice little boat over… my grandfather had passed on it. Dad said it was filled with snakes and certainly not worth risking getting bitten over. And because of that story, I never had any desire to get into a small boat or any waders.

    Reply

  • Hank Alvarez

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    Thomas: have the cotton mouths managed to get into your boat? I have a little 14′ Jon boat with a relatively shallow draft and I’m thinking of exploring some of the southern areas before we decide to relocate.

    Reply

    • will

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      Hank, after 39+ yrs. at and around Ft. Benning, I’ve found that Cottonmouths, and Banded Water snakes in general, If long enough- have come into my 16′ Alumacraft over the transom, or whichever is the lowest section closest to the water. However; be very observant If you are in or near any creek banks with overhanging limbs– as they will “drop in on you unexpectedly”— Literally. This I learned first-hand on Upatoi Creek, on Ft. Benning. The mating season is the worst time. They just seem to go wild and are afraid of nothing.

      Reply

  • Thomas Kling

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    Here in Central Texas we have a lot of Cotton Mouth and a few Rattle snakes. I do a lot of fishing in the Brazos River which has a lot of Cotton Mouth snakes, which are aggressive and give off a musky odor at some distance. I always carry a Smith & Wesson 38 special Airweight loaded with two rounds of Speer shot shells and three rounds of hollow points for two legged snakes. However, I have killed most of these snakes with a boat paddle. They tend to get into or around the boat at night, attracted by the bait in the minnow can. The boat paddle will not damage an aluminum boat.

    Reply

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