GREAT FALLS, MT — A Great Falls, Montana, professional rodeo cowboy got a shocking surprise earlier this month when he was fixing a broken water pipe. Shane Bessette thought an obstruction in the pipe was a white hose.
But as he reached in to remove it, it moved. A closer inspection showed it to be the white underbelly of a rattlesnake that was about 4 feet long.
Prairie rattlesnakes, which are venomous, aren’t that rare in Montana. They are plentiful and found in most parts of the state during warm weather months.
But finding a rattlesnake in January is rare, Bessette, 50, told the Great Falls Tribune.
“I’ve lived here all my life and never seen rattlesnakes in January,” he said.
The theory is the snake was hibernating in the pipe and when it burst, the flood of water brought the snake to the top. Bessette used a broom handle to wrangle the snake, which was “alive and really mad” when he pulled it from the pipe. As it coiled in preparation to strike, Bessette shot it with a pistol.
Last summer, several residents of Great Falls reported finding rattlesnakes in their yards, including one family that killed two rattlers in their front yard in a single day, according to KRTV. Most of the homes where the rattlesnakes were seen are in subdivisions located next to large fields, and development is encroaching on their territory.
But Montana’s “rattlesnake problem” may be a tad overblown, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks native species biologist Allison Begley told the Billings Gazette. The snakes can deliver a lethal dose of venom, so “a healthy respect” for them is a good idea, but rattlesnake bites aren’t very common in Montana, Begley said.
“People probably deal with them with the back end of a shovel,” Begley said. “Actually, we get more calls from folks looking to move to the state who want to know about our ‘rattlesnake problem.’ ”
Prairie rattlesnakes aren’t particularly aggressive and are shy. Begley says they get a bad rap.
“They’re very much maligned,” she told the Billings newspaper. “In general, their biggest predator is humans. They’re viewed as a threat no matter what they’re doing.”