Few people think about snakes when they’re considering going on a hunting trip, at least not as potential game. Venomous snakes are not particularly common in much of the United States as a dinner table staple. Maybe though, they should be.
Snakes are an accessible, abundant, versatile, low-fat source of protein, and even venomous species are safe to eat. In this article, you’ll learn the safest ways to hunt and cook snakes for a satisfying meal.
Snake Hunting Methods
The safest and most humane method for catching and killing a snake is to trap it by its head with a Y-shaped stick and then decapitate it with a knife. This is relatively painless for the snake, safest for the hunter, and leaves the entire body intact for cooking.
If hunting venomous snakes, be very careful when disposing of the head, which can continue to bite and inject venom for up to an hour after death.
Snakes are relatively easy to prepare for cooking, because they have very few organs — just a heart and a long tube that constitutes their entire digestive system. If you can remove this tube without breaking it, you’re in the clear and ready to cook. If it does tear, you’ll find out how many rodents the snake ate in the last week and have a lot of cleanup to do before you can enjoy your own meal.
You don’t have to debone a snake before cooking, but you should remove the skin, by cutting along the underbelly and then peeling it away. If you do want to debone your snake, the easiest way to do this is by boiling the meat until the bones come easily out of the meat.
When it comes to cooking snake meat, you have several options. Campers swear by roasting chunks over the fire, fancier outdoorsmen can fry them in oil. Home chefs may want to make snake jerky, snake steaks, or snake chili. Snake meat has basically no fat on it, so any method you might use for cooking other lean meats should produce a tasty snake dinner.
Dangerous snakes are venomous animals, but not poisonous ones. Venomous animals, such as some species of snakes and lizard, inject toxins into their victims. The venom is normally injected through a bite or a stinger. Poisonous animals release a toxin when ingested — poison dart frogs, for example. There is good news for snake hunters. Because snakes are non-poisonous, their meat is generally safe to eat. However, you should always make sure to cook snake meat all the way through before eating it. Snakes, like all wild animals, can carry parasites, and are especially common carriers of salmonella.
The bad news, of course, for snake hunters is that hunting snakes can expose you to potentially deadly venomous injections. Fortunately, only about 30% of the snakes in North America are venomous, although this varies widely depending on where in North America you are. As a rough rule of thumb, the further south you go, the more likely you are to encounter venomous snakes (or snakes in general).
Knowing which snakes are common in your region, what they look like, and whether they’re venomous is crucial before going on any snake hunts. However, whether they’re venomous or not, snakebites can be nasty injuries, so hunters should always take precautions. Heavy boots that reach above your ankles and thick, long gloves are a must. Wearing long sleeves and long pants will also help minimize your danger of getting an envenomating snakebite.
If you do get bitten, don’t panic. Only about five people die in the United States every year from venomous snake bites, fewer than die from spider bites or lightning strikes.
This isn’t due to of a lack of bites, or because American snakes aren’t dangerous, but because of the access to quality medical care. Your most important first aid tools in a snakebite situation are your cell phone and car keys. You’ll need to get to a hospital where they will administer the antivenom that will save your life and hopefully prevent a lifelong disability.
Laws around which snakes you can hunt and how vary from state to state. Florida mostly bans trapping snakes or hunting them with guns. Georgia and Colorado forbid killing any snakes at all, unless they are venomous snakes threatening your life or property, i.e., you can kill a rattlesnake that is likely about to bite you, your family, or your dog. Delaware has no laws about hunting snakes. Because snakes are reptiles, some states require a fishing license to hunt them.
All states, however, fall under the federal Endangered Species Act, which includes several snake species as threatened or endangered and are therefore illegal to hunt or kill. This is another reason it is important to know which snakes you are hunting before you start killing everything that slithers. People violating the Endangered Species Act can be fined or imprisoned.
Some people, of course, won’t go near so much as a garter snake with a 10-foot pole, but for those brave enough to hunt venomous snakes, there are a lot of tasty meals ahead.