Field Stripping a Venomous Snake


You start field stripping your snake by ringing him around the neck just behind the head.

My best friend and I have a David and Jonathan sort of Biblical-grade friendship. We’ve been best friends since seventh grade and have been oft mistaken for brothers. Though my own kids are grown and gone, his 14-year-old offspring is my godson. We have had some serious adventures together.

We don’t do much halfway. You only get one shot at life. I have little interest in looking back and regretting missed opportunities due to frivolity, inconvenience or relative risk. As you might imagine, this personal mantra causes no end of consternation to our wives.

The event was New Year’s Eve. My buddy and his crew were coming out to the Dabbs’ Family Survival Enclave for an evening of food, fun and fireworks. There would be a ping pong tournament thrown in for flavor. He sent me a text and asked if they could come out early. He needed some help with an educational project for his son.

The project came in the form of a good-sized frozen snake. My buddy had been out riding his bike a few weeks before when he came across a freshly demised copperhead on the road. The offending car had flattened the beast’s head and left the rest otherwise unmolested. He stopped, dropped the creature into a grocery sack he carries for this purpose, and deposited it in his freezer. His poor unfortunate bride.

Roadkill is an underappreciated source of entertainment, education and household décor. Once you get past the obvious ick factor, the world is your oyster. I have scored some hawk’s feet, several squirrel carcasses, a gorgeous fox pelt, and this venomous serpent all via the copious bounty of America’s roadways.

My friend is my perennial partner in crime. His own collection also includes a bobcat and a couple of raccoons.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it …

We were some of those homeschool freaks. When my own kids were young, everything was potentially educational, especially venomous reptiles. I’ve killed an even 60 water moccasins in the lake that serves as my rural backyard. Many of those animals ended up as training aids for the kids.

A big cottonmouth skin, properly tanned, makes a superb man-cave decoration. Copperheads are prettier but seldom as large. Additionally, the moccasins frequently reek of fish once you get them dissected. This copperhead, however, was the ideal specimen.

My teenaged buddy did most of the cutting.

Like most things, there’s a technique to it. You start by carefully wringing the neck just behind the head with a scalpel or similar sharp blade. Better men than I can salvage the skin on the head. However, that’s where the pointy bits reside. I typically eschew that myself.

You then slit the belly superficially from neck to tail taking care to keep your cut true to the midline. Tease the skin loose starting at the top and gently peel it back from neck to butt using hemostats. Use your blade as needed when things get tight, but the snake is pretty good about giving up his hide without too much fuss. Pull the skin back at a sharp angle and take care to minimize the amount of fat or flesh adherent to the juicy side.

Once free, drop the pelt into a container filled half and half with glycerin and isopropyl alcohol. Let the skin soak for a week or so, then smooth it out, dry it off, and pin it flat against a long board. Let it dry out, and Bob’s your uncle. You can use glycerin to keep the skin healthy while it cures. However, store the skins in your workshop, and the mice will eat them. Ask me how I know this.

Once we got the skin off, it was naturally time for an anatomy lesson. We found the big guy’s heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, mesenteric fat, esophagus and cloaca. His venom sacs were about the size of butterbeans. My young friend did most of the cutting, and we tossed the carcass in the lake when we were done. I rather suspect the turtles were thrilled. Throughout it all, the ladies inexplicably remained inside at a healthy distance.

Now my teenage buddy knows a great deal about snake anatomy. He also has a cool copperhead hide to use as a hatband or to hang on his wall. Additionally, when he returns to school, and everybody reports what they did over the holidays, all the other guys will wish they were him. The girls will likely squeal and flee in terror at the very relating of the tale, but that’s okay … for now. Viva la difference …

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