PHOTOS: Arkansas Hiker Finds Himself Suddenly Surrounded by Camouflaged Rattlesnakes

by Jon D. B.

Escaping with dozens of scrapes and bruises, the “avid outdoorsman” is sharing his cautionary tale to others. In short: always watch your step this time of year as rattlesnakes come out of hibernation.

“Today for my birthday, I learned a valuable lesson…”

Deep within Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, this Arkansas hiker found himself in immediate peril. While north of Van Buren, Stephen Gossow was exploring local creeks, cliffs, and rock formations with his dog.

“I’m an avid outdoorsman, I love to explore with my dog Khal Drogo,” his recounting of the day begins. “I decided to hit the woods with my pup and get some fresh air. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going*, a mistake that could have been deadly,” he notes. *Fellow Outsiders know this – but always tell someone where you’re venturing.

It was a chilly day, he notes, but as the sun rose overhead, the forest began to warm up quickly. “Me and Khal Drogo ventured through trees, creeks, up and down hills, we got to a pretty high elevation. Up there I explored a steep bluff line with many interesting rock formations. At this point we were miles in with no cell phone service,” Gossow continues – one of many reasons to always share your destination.

As he made his way along the rocks, he took a breather on a cliffside to soak in some sun. And everything changed in an instant. Gossow wasn’t alone.

“Suddenly, he was surrounded by diamondback rattlesnakes…”

As he caught his breath, Gossow’s eye spotted a familiar shape and pattern our human brains are wired to instantly recognize. Suddenly, he was surrounded by diamondback rattlesnakes. They, too, had chosen the spot to get some sun. Several, in fact, as rattlesnakes typically hibernate in nest clusters for warmth… and Gossow was standing in the middle of a nest.

“I froze!” he recalls in his detailed Facebook warning. “I instantly thought about every step I took. I couldn’t tell how many were in that spot but they were BIG!”

Just as he began to snap a few photos, Gossow notes that the rattlesnakes began to move. “The huge one,” as he refers to the whopper seen in his photos below, “started moving in my direction. I knew we had to get out of there.”

The Arkansas native grabbed his pup and worked his way away from the rocks and deadly snakes. Yet every step he took led him to another diamondback.

“As soon as I stepped around a tree by the rocks, I stepped right beside another rattlesnake. All I could do was lunge forward over the snake with Khal Drogo and down the steep incline we went!” he continues. “We rolled a little ways and got caught in some thick briars. Don’t worry! My neck broke my fall!”

Luckily for Gossow, neither he nor his dog were bitten. His photos do, however, document the abrasions from his fall. Both were able to make it back down the mountain with only minor injuries, but the incident weighs heavily on Gossow’s mind.

Today for my birthday 🎈I learned a valuable lesson. I’m an avid outdoorsman, I love to explore with my dog Khal Drogo….

Posted by Stephen Gossow on Monday, March 8, 2021

“It was reckless of me to venture out like that…”

“It was reckless of me to venture out like that. I want to warn everyone that likes [hiking and climbing] to understand the forest is full of beauty and dangers,” Gossow notes. “I also want to warn that even though we were covered in snow two weeks ago, the snakes are coming out during these warm patches. Y’all be careful, my day could have easily been a lot worse.”

Isn’t that the truth. His cautionary comes, as the hiker cites, right as snakes and many reptiles are coming out of hibernation. Across the U.S., rattlesnakes typically hibernate from October to March. Depending on your location, most will be out and active mid-March.

Moreover, diamondbacks and other rattlesnake species will coil in groups during cold months to feed off what little body heat these cold-blooded creatures can retain in a phenomenon wildlife biologists call hibernaculum.

“I was lucky enough to not get bit, I have no idea how but God was watching over! I had a snake bite kit with me but that would really only buy me time,” Gossow states. “Came out with cuts and bruises and Khal Drogo had a bloody nose. It was a wild birthday adventure!” he concludes, before reiterating that “you can see some of the rattlesnakes 🐍 in two of my pictures” (above).

Are you able to spot the venomous snakes in his photos? Their perfect camouflage makes diamondbacks particularly hard to spot. Dusty coloration, markings, and eons of evolution have made rattlesnakes nearly-undetectable on most forest or desert floor terrain. Typically, rattlesnakes will warn potential threats (like us humans) of their presence with their distinctive rattle. As they come out of hibernation, however, reptiles are sluggish and may not give warning to their location.

Recap: What to Do in Rattlesnake Territory

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake / eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) venomous pit viper native to the southeastern United States. (Photo by: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Whether in western or eastern diamondback territory (both are found in Arkansas, one of the rare states where both species live), a few pointers can help you survive a potential encounter:

  1. Always let someone know of your intended location. A friend, family member, or even just a simple post on social media. If something happens to you, you want others to know where to look!
  2. Wear high, tall, thick leather/outdoors boots. I call mine “anklebiters.” These will give you the best chance of avoiding any venomous snake’s fangs reaching the spot they strike most often. They also are very handy at preventing the all-too-common ankle-roll/sprain on rough terrain.
  3. Always carry a first-aid kit, not a snake-bite kit. Commercial snake-bite kits are based on years of misinformation and won’t do anything but make a bad situation worse.
  4. If you will be venturing into a park prone to rattlesnake bites, look up the park ranger’s office number and put it on speed-dial. Park rangers will know exactly what to do, but will also be the quickest to get to you.
  5. If bitten, move away from the snake first as they may strike twice. Then, keep the bite below the level of your heart. Call 911 if you are able to. Do not cut the bite or try to suck out the venom. The best thing you can do is stay still and as calm as possible away from the snake.