* How we work: The rattlesnake wrangler

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by Bo Slyapich, as told to L.R. Ames

I guess snake-catching comes naturally to me. I started catching snakes in Malibu Canyon at age five where I lived with my parents. The really big kids— the seven to eight-year-olds—showed me how to do it. By age nine, I had hit my prime—I had 90 snakes and lizards in boxes along the side of my house. 

There’s nothing more tenacious than a 9-year-old with snakes and lizards. Did I keep the rattlers as pets? No…my friends and I finished them off with a shovel, a shotgun, or a two-by-four!

Nowadays, I do things differently. With my business as the Rattlesnake Wrangler, I clear Hollywood movie sets so the cast can film, and I get rid of rattlers on people’s property.

I go to work wearing padded leather snake boots that go up to my knees, and knee pads, and in 56 years of chasing snakes, I’ve never been bitten. 

Grabbing the Rattler

So you want to know, how do I catch the rattlers?  I use snake tongs and my thermal sensor, and I go over the client’s property inch by inch. Over the years I’ve learned where to find them. I grab the snakes with the tongs right behind the head, put them in a box, and then relocate them to a big remote property that a friend owns in the Malibu mountains where they won’t bite a hiker or a mountain biker. 

Or, I donate them for cancer research or for rattlesnake avoidance training. They use my rattlers to train the dogs, keeping the rattler muzzled with his mouth taped shut.

Typically, I get between two and eight calls a day—it’s been especially busy this year because we’ve had a lot of rain, which means a lot of growth, which means a lot of seeds, which means a lot of rodents…and a lot of healthier snakes.

Rattlesnake season starts as soon as it gets into the ’80’s. That’s when they’re out of hibernation and will stay out. Every year the snake season seems to get longer and longer because the summer weather’s been lasting longer.

What are the typical calls I get?  Well, “My dog got bit.” “I have a snake in my garage.” “I left the back door open for my dog to go in and out, and I think there’s a rattlesnake in my kitchen.”  Most of these are people whose property backs up to the  hills. Any home against the wilds has a good chance of getting a rattler.

I ask people, how long have you lived here, and what kind of problem do you have? They’ll say, “Bo, I’ve been here for 45 years and never had a snake problem, but this year I have two.” Or “I usually get two a season, but now I have ten.” I find myself being called to areas I never went to before.

Dogs and Rattlesnakes

I see 80 to 90 dog bites a year, and most of the dogs make it. But it’s expensive. One client had her dog spend just one night in the hospital, and the bill came to four thousand dollars! 

I had another lady call me from Agoura. Her Jack Russell Terrier was bitten when he was up on the hill behind her property. I came and caught the snake, and I told her, if he goes back up on that hill, it’s going to happen again— you’ve either got to have me put in a snake fence, or take the brush down. 

Well, no sooner had she brought that dog home from the vet, when she opened the car door and the Jack Russell charged straight back up that hill and got bit again. She called me up and said, ‘Bo…after eight grand, that dog will never see that hill again!”

Snake fencing is something we put around the perimeter of the property—it’s quarter-inch mesh that’s three feet high and sunk down one whole foot in the ground. We also tell people to get rid of brush piles and clutter.

Watch Where You Hike

When you’re hiking in the summer, it’s smart to pick your trails carefully.  This time of year, dogs are safer on a leash, with you keeping their noses out of the bushes. I had a mountain biker tell me that almost every time he goes to Cheseborough Canyon to ride his bike he sees a couple of snakes on that trail.

It’s also safest to hike when it’s cooler—if it’s cold enough that you have to wear a jacket, you’re probably OK. Or when it’s super hot, you’re probably OK too, because then the snakes go into the shade. They like the temperatures you like.

Of course that also means if you keep your garage doors and house doors open to let the dog go in and out, you may find a snake has decided that he likes how cool your house is. I had a family in Thousand Oaks go in their kitchen for breakfast and there was a 4-foot snake curled up under the table.

How do you tell a rattler? Well, the only one that looks like a rattler is a gopher snake, and like all good snakes, the gopher snake’s tail comes to a point.  Good snakes also have round eyes.  But the rattler has a black-cat, elliptical eyes, with a big head and a little neck

You are probably wondering why the rattler rattles.  It’s a warning to keep hooved animals from stepping on them. But it’s really more of a hissing than a rattling sound—kind of a cross between the sound of a sprinkler and the noise of gas escaping. 

One couple in Simi Valley thought they had a gas leak behind the stove, but it was strange, because they only heard the hissing now and then.  And so they called the gas company and they pulled the stove away from the wall and it turned out it was a rattlesnake.

I had a guy call me at one in the morning. He said, “Bo, our sprinklers are on.’ I said, “What the hell are you calling me at one in the morning for?” He said, “Bo, we don’t have any sprinklers.”  

I told him okay…I was on my way.

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