While hunting deer in the Tehema Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California, Jay Rathman climbed to a ledge on the slope of a rocky gorge. As he raised his head to look over the ledge above, he sensed movement to the right of his face. A coiled rattler struck with lightning speed, just missing Rathmans right ear. The four-foot snakes fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathmans wool turtleneck sweater, and the force of the strike caused it to land on his left shoulder. It then coiled around his neck. He grabbed it behind the head with his left hand and could feel the warm venom running down the skin of his neck, the rattles making a furious racket. He fell backward and slid headfirst down the steep slope through brush and lava rocks, his rifle and binoculars bouncing beside him.
“As luck would have it,” he said in describing the incident to a Department of Fish and Game official, “I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move.” He got his right hand on his rifle and used it to disengage the fangs from his sweater, but the snake had enough leverage to strike again. “He made about eight attempts and managed to hit me with his nose just below my eye about four times. I kept my face turned so he couldnt get a good angle with his fangs, but it was very close. This chap and I were eyeball to eyeball and I found out that snakes dont blink. He had fangs like darning needles I had to choke him to death. It was the only way out. I was afraid that with all the blood rushing to my head I might pass out.” When he tried to toss the dead snake aside, he couldnt let go--”I had to pry my fingers from its neck.”
Rathman, 45, who works for the Defense Department in San Jose, estimates his encounter with the snake lasted 20 minutes. Warden Dave Smith says of meeting Rathman: “He walked toward me holding this string of rattles and said with a sort of grin on his face, Id like to register a complaint about your wildlife here.”