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  • Lani Hansen

Snake Safety



Snake Handler Woody Hansen shares the importance of learning about local snakes.

TAHLEQUAH – Many people do not know the difference between a poisonous snake and a non-poisonous snake. With warmer days and evenings starting, snake handler Woody Hansen educates on the types of reptiles plus what to do and what not to do when dealing with a snake bite.

Hansen is an outdoor wildlife educator in the field of snakes, particularly those of Northeast Oklahoma. His hobby began in 1989, when a fellow Cherokee and a Seneca Cayuga man invited him to join them to travel out to Western Oklahoma (Okeene) to hunt rattlesnakes.

“Little did I know that the ‘trio’ that was formed on my first rattlesnake roundup would last for 33 years,” Hansen said. “Sadly, one of my mentors passed in December of 2022, now the ‘Fang Gang’ is now a duo. This past snake roundup was emotional as Calvin and I sat around the campfire without Ed with us.”

Hansen started educating the public after observing certain men of the Okeene Rattlesnake Association. They entered the “snake pit” an enclosure with up to 100 rattlers, handling and demonstrating the fangs, skin and rattles of live diamondback rattlesnakes.

“I began to imitate these men and the rest is rattlesnake history, 34 years later and I am still educating the public and enjoying it,” Hansen said.

He has presented at schools, camps, tribes and many other places on the safety of snakes.

Through his years of handling snakes, Hansen has come across other species of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Commonly known snakes of Northeast Oklahoma are copperheads (ambushers), cottonmouth (territorial), pigmy rattlesnakes (small and hot tempered) and on very rare occasion the coral snake (red and yellow, hurts a fellow).

“All of these become partners of the menagerie of my traveling venomous educators, or the cat eyed and the triangle headed ones,” Hansen stated. “For balance, my program includes the non-venomous family of snakes who are all sleek and round eyed.”

Some of the non-poisonous snakes include the rat snake (climber), hognose spreading adder (acts like a cobra but harmless), blue racer (fast), water snake (crawdad stealer) and others that may present themselves.

Hansen holds a hognose spreading adder (non-poisonous). (LANI HANSEN/SENIOR REPORTER)

Hansen goes over what to do and what not to do, he said “snake handlers have a saying, it is not a matter of if you get bit, it is a matter of when you get bit.”

He said, it was 20 years of snake handling before he was injected with venom from just one fang piercing his finger. This bite sent him to the hospital where he stayed for three days. Another time he was bit by a copperhead in the palm area, which caused a lot of swelling but no overnight stay at the hospital.

“Afterwards was three very uncomfortable days and nights my swelling subsided, and I was able to conduct a snake safety program later that afternoon,” Hansen said.

According to Hansen, when bitten by a snake do not cut an “X” or tie off the area, in contrary to what the elders were taught or what was seen in movies or television. Hansen said, do not use any tourniquet methods. The most important and wise action is to either call 911 for an ambulance to transport you or have someone calmly drive you to the nearest hospital.

Other methods to do when bitten by a snake are stay calm, remove any type of tight clothing or jewelry, limit physical activity, keep the bite at the level of the heart and wash the wound with soap and water.

“A poisonous snake bite will typically show two entry points due to having two fangs, and it will be painful with a hot sensation,” Hansen said. “Whereas the non-poisonous bite will be U-shaped, with some stinging and surface bleeding. You want to make sure to wash with soap and water and treat with antibacterial ointment.”

Hansen added, he was chasing after a garter snake (sharp teeth and non-poisonous) one day and it had bit him at least seven times. He had treated it but a week later broke out in a rash and so he called the Oklahoma Poison Control Center. He had it checked out and the doctor asked him about eating anything unusual, he said a garter snake as he laughed at the joke.

The Oklahoma Poison Control Center is a program of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy at the OU Health Sciences Center. Hansen helps promote for the center when presenting on snake safety. They are staffed by medical professionals dealing primarily with poison situations.

It is important when bitten by a snake to call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.



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