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Guardian Angel, Snake Hunter

southern-copperhead-1329055_1280Today I want to do something different. I’m going to tell you a story. A story that is, in fact, more than a little symbolic insofar as it represents the daily battle between the forces at war for our souls – and the need to call upon supernatural help when we are faced with an obstacle — however small — that we are unable to overcome.

A couple years ago, my youngest brother, who was about 15 at the time, was bitten by a copperhead on the front steps of my house. It was after dark. It had been raining all day. It was a warm summer day, and he was barefoot. He took two steps down — never intending to leave the front stoop — and put his foot right onto the snake, lurking in the shadows cast by the lights next to my front door.

Copperheads are allegedly shy. But like all pit vipers, they have heat vision, so they can see prey in the dark. Shy or not, they are reported to bite more people than any other venomous snake in North America.

My brother spent the next three days in the hospital, getting pumped full of antivenom. His foot was hugely swollen. He couldn’t walk properly for a while. He was on crutches for a long time. It was an incredibly painful experience.

Since then, I’ve been more wary when I go outside. In total, I’ve killed five copperheads in the five years I’ve lived here. There was a sixth that I missed. He turned up while I was stacking firewood on my back patio. As I moved the split logs from one pile to another, there he was, just hanging out beneath the He was hiding in the pile of split logs, and when I saw him, and realized that I had two small children only a few feet away, I opted to get them moving rather than put an end to the threat. Just in case I got him angry first. While I was busy with them, he took off.

We have no street lights on our road. We live in the woods. It’s very dark. I don’t always remember to grab a flashlight when I go outside at night, usually to take out the trash. This past Monday was one of those nights. As I started to walk down the steps, I remembered the copperhead problem. It was about this time of year that my brother got bit. Figuring I should play it safe, I started a prayer to my guardian angels, just in case. “Angels of God, my guardians dear, to whom God’s love…”

That was when I heard the unmistakable sound of a snake rattling its tail.

While rattlesnakes aren’t unheard of in Northern Virginia, they’re not common where I live. This sounded an awful lot like that, though. I was wearing athletic shorts with no pockets, so I didn’t even have my phone. No source of light at hand. I knew that whatever was making that sound was very near to me, but I didn’t know where. 

I’ve gotten in the habit of carrying trash bags low to the ground in whatever hand I’m carrying them. You might laugh at the thought, but I do this to shield me from exactly this scenario. I figure that a big trash bag makes a pretty effective block against a flanking strike. You see, we have a long set of back steps are made of bricks, hemmed in by landscaping timbers. These descend from the level of our deck all the way down to the driveway, a good ten or fifteen feet below. On either side are shrubs, flowers, and ornamental grasses. By this point in the summer, the brush is pretty thick. Hiding spots for small predators abound. We have solar landscaping lights, but the sun had been down for a while, and they’d gone mostly dark. Fortunately, I had grabbed this particular trash bag with my left hand, and the rattle was definitely coming from my left. I dropped the trash bag right where I was and backed away slowly. I finally made it out in the light from the kitchen windows, coiling to strike. Definitely a copperhead, and right up against the side of the trash bag.

I made a wide arc around the trash bag and back up to the house. I grabbed my phone (only light I had handy) off the counter, and found my pellet gun. The gun is a break-barrel model, which means only one pellet at a time can be loaded. It’s scoped, and pretty powerful, shooting its tiny projectiles at about 1200 feet per second. I had no idea if I could hit a snake with it in broad daylight, let alone in the dark, but I didn’t want to waste time looking for a more suitable weapon and let him get away. I leaned over the deck railing and took a shot, hoping my scope was still sighted in after months of disuse. It must have hit, because he took off like he was bitten, sliding under the brick steps. A chase ensued, him under my back deck, then around and out. I fired at him a couple more times during the pursuit, to no effect. I chased him back under the deck with the hose. Finally cornered by an overturned flowerpot, I loaded another pellet. The scope had already fogged up in the unusual heat and humidity, and it was even darker under the porch than out on the steps. There was almost no chance. I held my phone awkardly as a flashlight in my left hand, bracing the gun with that hand and grabbing the trigger and stock with my right.

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My prey was hiding near the overturned flowerpot that you can barely see in broad daylight. Imagine it in the dark.

I realized the futility of my situation, but I wasn’t about to give up.

“Lord,” I said. “I need to protect my family from this thing. I can’t let it get away, or it might bite one of my kids. Please help me kill it.”

I sighted it in, blurry and indistinct in the crosshairs against the dirt that matched its camouflage.


The snake’s whole body straightened, then relaxed. From what I could see, it wasn’t moving, and it had changed its position from coiled, ready to hide or strike, to laid out flat. I chucked a rock at it. I sprayed it with the hose. Certain it was dead, I pulled it out with a rake put it in an empty box so I could get it in the light and examine it.

There was one shot clear through the body, but that wasn’t what did it. Somehow I scored a headshot on a two-foot snake, the 5.5mm pellet demolishing one whole side of his face. That tiny piece of shaped lead, not even the size of a pencil eraser, somehow hit a snake head not much wider than a dime. I’ve killed these things with cars (running them over on purpose) and shovels, and they do not die easily. They’re really, really tough. It makes me think of trying to kill a zombie. The head usually has to come off before they give up, and even then, they keep moving. But once I had him cornered, it was one shot, one kill. I expended four total pellets in the battle.

I am very, very grateful that I did not get bit. Perhaps even moreso, that this guy didn’t get away to hide under the steps so that he might later get one of my kids. I’m a decent shot, but there’s no way I did that one without help. Lucky doesn’t begin to describe it. So the moral of the story is: never underestimate the power of prayer, even in the unlikeliest of circumstances. I owe a debt of thanks to my guardian angels, and to the guiding hand of The Lord. 

Now today, I found this hanging from the ceiling of my basement (the owner nowhere in sight). It’s over four feet long (yes, I measured.) But that’s a story — and a battle — for another day.


34 thoughts on “Guardian Angel, Snake Hunter”

  1. Yikes! I have a similar story about a bat that was loose in our home. After chasing it with a broom for an hour, it disappeared. I prayed so earnestly: “Lord, I don’t know where this bat is, but I pray that you ‘take care of it’ for me and my family. The next morning we found it – drowned – in the toilet. Unbelievable! It must have been thirsty….God is so good!

    • We have m*** in our house (and not Mickey or Minnie either). They’re in the walls. I know that the good Lord created them; but they still scare me.

      So I said, “Lord, please keep the m*** away and I will keep Your house beautiful.”. He keeps His end of the bargain and I try to keep up my end too (with His help).

      To all who don’t believe that God answers prayers, I got news for you:. YES, HE DOES!!!!

      • That’s actually extremely important to address. Almost all insurance policies have a caveat about rodent caused fire. I had a mouse nest in a kitchen stove once, filled with dog food in the insulation. It lit once and I was luckily there to handle it.

        A snake can get you or your kids in the hospital. Mice can take your home.

        • Do you know of any organic/natural ways of getting rid of them (short of getting a cat)? I can’t tolerate chemicals and I have to be very careful even with “non-toxic” m”””” traps.

          • Some traps are ok. We didn’t use poison either because of the dogs eating the Coumadin laced mice.

          • I was told by a number of pest people that almost every house has mice, especially in the fall and winter. Plug up any exterior holes you can find. Those old mouse traps do a good job, but of course one has to check them and dispose of them regularly. The bait they put down now is not really “chemicals” but food in packets, usually. If you have an old house as we did, the mice tend to die in the walls and that is two weeks of stinking misery. I wouldn’t want a cat eating mice full of rodent killer. Oh, take brillo pad and stuff it tight into holes around pipes coming into your house, as in, under the sinks. They can’t chew through that. This is often how they get around, pipe holes. Don’t leave food or crumbs around either. Put food in plastic containers.
            I am not complacent about mice either. They multiply like nobody’s business.

          • Snakes will eat them. 😉
            Sorry. That was too easy. I absolutely hate your furry tenants and have always been happy to have garter snakes on the property to enjoy the feast. Copperheads are another matter.

  2. Well the ever so intelligent government agency, National Fish and Wildlife, in my state of Massachusetts has decided that it would be absolutely marvelous to reintroduce timber rattlesnakes. They have reassured we ignorant Massites ( or the less benevolent but extremely funny Massholes some like to call us) that these rattlesnakes pose no threat to anyone. In fact our concerns about this whole issue have been ridiculed by experts. You see they want to put them on an island located in the Quabbin Reservoir where they insist they will stay. They will not swim off the island, they will not come into contact with people unless they set foot on Snake Island as it is named. Yup, they think they know best, and if anyone gets bitten/killed, heaven forbid, I hope they get these idiots fired.

    • They have no doubt added at least a few “refugees” per snake added. In Cambridge, at least, I’m sure they’d throw welcome parties for both.

    • Massachusetts has lost it’s mind entirely. A progressive’s paradise.
      The term Masshole is typically applied to Massachusetts drivers, whom I would argue are the worst in the nation. (Surely not in your case.)
      Steve, thank God you and your family are alright. Good work, and Deo gratias.

  3. Steve, I think you need to pray to your Guardian Angel to find you a new house. I would be so terrified, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night!!

  4. There’s nothing better than prayer in these situations, but investing in a short barrel 12 gauge wouldn’t hurt either! (They allow you a little more room for error, especially in the dark) 😉

      • That makes sense, but I dislike snakes so much, I would just fix the house! (Provided of course my family weren’t in the line of fire)

      • .22 pistol with fragmentary rounds. The right ones can be used inside a house and do not fully penetrate drywall. I too live in Manassas. Think our kids go to school together.

  5. I’m hearing you. Totally. Got bit by a copperhead last year. Two days in the hospital, had to have the finger slit open and drained days later, and it still doesn’t look quite right. Guardian angels are the best! Good shot, too!

  6. Steve, may I humbly suggest an added ‘hedge of protection’? Go online and order several 25 lb. bags of rock salt, get them blessed, punch a hole in them and drag those suckers around the perimeter of your house. Dang. Methinks there is more at play here than country living.

  7. I need a pellet gun! I carry a 380, similar size bullet and muzzle speed – but even in Texas, it’s a hassle to fire in the kind of neighborhood our house is in. It’s in city limits…. Long story.

    When we first moved in, I was clearing brush on the hillside in the back yard with a push mower. Anyhow, I looked and saw a beautiful, 2 foot long, snake, beautifully patterned with orange and rust hues, its body 2 pencils thick, it’s diamond, wide head resting on its skinny neck. I had passed over him and assumed he was dead. Nope. This was one of the worst cases (rattlers are actually not rare in southern Texas, nor are kingsnakes “red & yellow kills a fellow… ) – but he was a 2 year old (juvenile) copperhead – not dead at all.

    I had several really, really lousy ideas pass through my brain nearly instantaneously. Some of them might have gotten me a nasty bite (juveniles don’t control venom – they release all they have in a bite. They’re actually sometimes more dangerous than adults.)

    But my kids would have been in far greater danger and aren’t ever armed with a running lawnmower blade.

    It didn’t end happily with a dead snake, but it could have been far worse. My neighbors have had their share of rattlers and scorpions but we have been spared additional encounters. I wear a brown scapular and a couple metals always and typically pray when I’m doing yard work and the like. I didn’t think my being preserved was due to any of that. Maybe I need to reconsider. On some level, I take it for granted that I enjoy protection. I should not.

    The point is that a first encounter that everyone assured would never happen, which we absolutely didn’t anticipate in any concrete sense, happened to me, not my wife or kids – and despite being utterly unprepared, it went well – plus now we are better prepared for another.

    Not nearly as inspiring as Steve’s tale, but perhap an interesting variant.

  8. After reading all these comments, I would like to revise my advice and go with the blessed salt and medals and scapular. My husband travels a lot and I always pray to Our Lady for his safety on trips. He is retiring this month and went on his last trip this week (trip home involved severe lightning storms, flight delays, broken equipment on a plane, no flight attendant available, then no personnel for the arriving gate available so they had to wait on the tarmac for 40 minutes during one leg of the trip and one hour on another leg. At the airport, all the outlets were dead so he could not charge his dead phone, there weren’t enough chairs so he sat on the floor-remember he is in his 60’s and has ankle and knee problems-they closed all the food and drink outlets), but he arrived safely at 2:20 am! I do believe in prayer as a source of protection. Also, just lately we have been adding a prayer to our Guardian angels with our night prayers. Thank you Guardian Angels! And I will pray for the safety of your family too.

  9. Wow!

    “You never know how big of a threat you are to the enemy, until you start doing something for God.” -Anonymous

  10. Steve, I realize this is beside the point of your story, but may I suggest buying a pig? They love to eat snakes.

  11. God protect you from those snakes. You might want to get an Australian Terrier, they’re a good family dog bred in Australia to hunt rodents and snakes. They have a long coat, the snake bites and gets nothing but a mouth full of fur. Also put a Saint Benedict or Miraculous medal on the dog’s collar.

  12. I met my Guardian Angel once as a teenager, in a similar life-threating situation. I was working for the power co-op that serviced a small, rural community and an Indian Reservation. There are a lot of dogs that run wild and feral out there. I was out quite a ways from my truck, by myself. A pack of the feral dogs found me, encircled me, cut me off from my truck, and were advancing to kill me. I was certain I was was going to die.

    Out of nowhere, this huge black lab came trotting up. The other dogs were terrified of this one. This black dog was the biggest I’ve ever seen, huge, almost like a small bear. It came and sat down right at my heal. It looked up once at my face, and then turned all its attention in the pack. They snarled and growled and backed off, and I could feel their hate and fear of this new dog.

    That black dog stayed with me until I was done, then calmly walked me back to my truck. I wasted no time getting in, and it stood right next to my door as I did so. I got my gear stowed, and started up the truck. The feral pack was still circling the truck.

    I got the truck in gear, and started backing up, trying to find the big black dog, so I wouldn’t accidentally hit him. I couldn’t see him in my mirrors. I couldn’t see him out my windows. I did not see him running off. The other dogs were all still there.

    As I drove off, I kept an eye out for him, continuing to check my mirrors as I pulled away, and looking to see if there was any ditch or vegetation he might have hidden in, but there was not. He was simply gone, after saving my life.


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