Tanning Snake Skin and Cooking Snake Meat

If you find yourself occasionally having to kill and dispose of rattlesnakes, why not learn a bit about tanning snake skin and cooking snake meat?

| May/June 1981

Rattlesnakes can be unwelcome visitors around the homestead. Of course, if I happen upon one of the serpents while riding or hiking in the desert, I let it slither on its way, but when a venomous reptile shows up too close to the house or barn I feel obliged to kill it. Even then, however, I never simply discard the victim of my defensive action because the serpents are just plain too useful to throw away. There's an old saying about using all of a pig but the squeal. Well, I've learned everything from tanning snake skin to cooking snake meat to making snake-bone jewelry—how to use all of a rattlesnake but the hiss!

First, though, let me emphasize that snakes play vital ecological roles in animal and insect control, and that senseless slaughter of the beautiful reptiles is inexcusable. Indeed, commercial hunting has put some of the predators on the endangered species list. But although our aggressive western diamondback (and a number of other poisonous snakes) can be found in healthy (and even dangerous) abundance in many areas, if one of them must be destroyed—to protect your family, pets, and livestock—its carcass should be used.

But Kill With Caution

Since moving to the western desert's foothills, I've occasionally been forced to kill rattlers. And, upon hearing the familiar buzz-z-zz, my primary concern is how to wield a shovel, hoe, or other handy implement to decapitate the serpent without damaging its lovely skin.

I must, however, caution any neophyte snake-harvesters that the diamondback ranks among the world's most dangerous reptiles and accounts for more serious bites and fatalities than does any other North American viper. Exercise every precaution to avoid being bitten, both while dispatching the snake and when handling the carcass. Be sure, for example, to dispose of the severed head immediately and avoid any accidental contact with the fangs. Remember, too, that long-lasting reptilian reflexes can prompt even the disembodied head to "strike," so discard the jaws in a place where children and animals can't get to them.

Snake venom, you see, can cause damage to body tissue, the bloodstream, and the nervous system. Healthy adult humans rarely keel over and die from a bite (as often happens in Western movies), but they can sustain permanent tissue damage: An acquaintance of mine was recently nicked by a trimmed-off head while she was placing it in a garbage bag, and is now lacking part of her finger! Furthermore, when snakebite complications occur, a victim will likely require weeks of expensive hospitalization. (If my warnings prevent you from snake scavenging ... fine! I wouldn't want to push anyone into possible peril.)

Some snake tanners simply buy reptiles fresh-frozen. If that approach interests you, you may be able to find out how to go about doing so by contacting the reptile curator at the nearest zoo. The institution won't sell to you directly (its stock has a low mortality rate, and a federal law requires that all dead zoo residents be cremated), but the curator will probably have a list of major snake dealers who maintain a stock of frozen serpents. In the Southeast, such people sell rattlesnakes and rat snakes at $1.00 to $2.00 per foot, while copperheads are only $3.00 to $5.00 each. Since prices vary greatly from region to region, telephone shopping can often save you money.

7/16/2007 2:07:58 AM

I was at my ranch this weekend in central texas takeing a walk looking for wild hogs when I came about a foot from stepping on a huge snake in the middle of the trail. To my suprise when I jumped back and made a bunch of movment the snake diddent even twitch. The only snakes I knew of in my area were cotten mouths, copperheads and the occasional coral snake. And smoe say they've seen timber rattlers which I have never seen. Not taking a chance I put a bullet in its head and saw that it was bigger that I thought(about 4 feet) It didn't have a rattle and didn't look lake a cotten mouth or copperhead so I brought it back to my dad and he didn't know what it was. So when we got back home I looked up snakes on the internet and found out it was a rat snake. I always wanted to skin a snake so I did but After reading you article found out I did it wrong. All I did was skin it which I did ok but after that I just flattened it out and laid on a board flesh side down a put pins in a few places and left it. Is the skin worth skewing with any more Or should I just hang the board in the garage and call it a day? And are rat snakes, Copperheads, or cotten mouths good to eat or just rattle snakes?   Mother Reasponds: We are not the best resource on tanning or eating snakes. I recommend you contact Wilderness Way magazine at    

4/22/2007 6:36:03 PM

I have been very lucky where I work.Two rattlesnakes were within a second of getting me last year and this year,but I got them instead.Now I am going to put their hides on boards and hang them up in my living room.Thank you so much for the information to make it possible.

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