Diamondback Rattlesnake

The call signs of Viper Unit are named for snakes found in Texas:

  • Diamondback: the western diamondback rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox. Regarded as the most venomous and the most rare in central Texas.
  • Moccasin: the water moccasin (aka cottonmouth), Agkistrodon piscivorus. Resides in tanks (man-made ponds) and other water sources. Black with a stark-white mouth… not something you want to see up close.
  • Copperhead: the copperhead snake, Agkistrodon contortrix. Very venomous, and possibly the most dangerous, as they aren’t afraid to cozy up next to your house.
  • King: the not-so-venomous kingsnake, which isn’t a viper at all. It’s not even venomous, or dangerous to humans, but it’s known for killing and eating venomous snakes like the vipers listed above.

Maybe Diamondback should have named the rookie for a non-venomous snake that wasn’t capable of killing and eating his namesake. Come on, man. There are rat snakes… chicken snakes…


Growing up in Texas meant I was taught to know my snakes, and even more so for visiting the grandparents’ ranch. Venomous snakes are so plentiful there—water moccasins especially—that my sisters and I often take our great grandfather’s .22 rifle, find their heads poking just out of the water, and send them to a murky grave.

Copperheads are just as bad. When it gets really dry in the summer, they’ll come up to the house in search of water and a cool place to rest… which is normally a flower bed right on your doorstep.

Shooting snakes

Sitting at a tank, daring a water moccasin to rear its head. Trust me, there are several under the surface.


A couple of years ago, I spotted the signature yellow/orange pattern of a copperhead as it curled in a hole under the roots of a tree not 20 feet from the porch. Worried that it might bite one of the clueless dogs, I grabbed a rifle and set it in my sights.

Getting the right angle was tough. I had to get so close that I’d only get one shot off before running for my ever-loving life. That one shot had to be the kill shot.

There was an outdoor swing hanging from a branch of that same tree. It was completely in my line of sight, so I leaned over it ever so slowly.

Two shots of pain pierced my leg. I jerked away from the bench, reaching down to grab the jaw of the snake who’d just bitten my calf.

But the snake had no accomplice. It was still sitting snug in the tree, chuckling to itself as I swatted at the paper wasps that had erupted from their nest under the swing.

Two wasps had stung me at the same time with the same distance apart as a viper’s fangs… while I was looking at a viper. Once I got over the strange coincidence—and slathered a large amount of lavender essential oil over my swollen leg—I plotted my vengeance.

No way was I going back over to that paper-wasp-infected bench. The only alternative was to get a different angle, and peering underground from a distance meant I needed height.

A round wooden table about three feet across should have done the trick. I hauled it from the porch and set it on a slope at the top of a small incline. My husband watched me doubtfully as I determinedly climbed on top of the table and set my vengeful sights back on the copperhead’s lair.

Copperhead snake

Freakin’ copperheads. Not a pleasant surprise in your begonias.


But my leg had gone numb. Just as I was lining up a shot, the table decided that it didn’t want to hold a wild rifle-wielding woman with a bum leg on an incline. It threw me from its good graces, and I landed hard on my back.

For some reason, my husband didn’t lose a lung from laughing at me. Maybe he felt bad for me and my leg, which was now the size of Tennessee. He helped me up and urged me to renounce my quest for the serpent’s blood.

But I would not be swayed. I gathered my courage and returned to the bench, but didn’t touch it. I had to get within 5 feet of the copperhead’s hole to see down into it, and for some reason I thought it was worth the risk.

The golden pattern glowed between the tree roots, daring me to disturb it. I said a prayer, took the shot, and hobbled away at top speed as the snake writhed.

I don’t know if I killed that smug reptile. I was long gone and icing my leg down until I could actually walk again, at which point I decided a scouting mission was in order. Upon my return to that fateful tree, the lair was empty.

The take-away? Don’t ever put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire your weapon. If I hadn’t had trigger discipline that day, things might not have been so humorous.