This past weekend Nick and I set out for an evening of jackrabbit hunting. Nick took his bow with a couple of small game heads and I took the 10-22. The jackrabbit hunt was an utter failure—we only saw one jack the whole time and he was running full clip. No way to get a good shot on a sprinting hare with a rifle or a bow.
The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. Nick did spot what looked to be a monster rattlesnake while he was stalking through a rocky area. It was only after he took the first shot with his bow that he realized it was in fact two rattlesnakes coiled together. We ended up bringing both home for dinner that night. This was our first time ever harvesting or eating rattlesnake. Here are our thoughts on this first taste.
First, caution is imperative! Dead snakes, and even decapitated snakes, can still bite you and inject large amounts of venom (see here). So, if you happen to kill a rattler or other venomous snake, first pin the head down using a stick or other long implement. Then, when you are confident that the head is secure and cannot move to bite you, cut the head off. Use another long tool to push that head far away from you before handling the snake further. I would not recommend handling the head at all.
Next, the snake body needs to be skinned. I did this by making a superficial slit along the belly of the snake that connected to where the head had been removed. I took the skin and began to peel it away from the meat 360 degrees around the snake body. Once a few inch section of meat had been freed from the skin, I grabbed the end of the meat with one had and the peeled end of the skin in the other and pulled the two apart (like pulling off a very tight sock) slowly working my way toward the tail of the snake. It actually takes a bit of force, but works very well. The skin stays intact and the risk of puncturing the guts is minimized.
Once the skin is off, it’s time to take out the internal organs. Again, start at the head-end. You will see a pink line along the middle of the snake on the underside. Grab that thin pink strip and gently pull down. The guts are all contained within this one membrane that spans the length of the animal. Gently pull them out head to tail and discard. Now all you have left is meat and bones, ready to toss in the cooler. You may also want to save the skin in a separate bag in the cooler if you’d like to tan it. (A detailed post on the topic can be found here).
We decided we wanted to try a very simple preparation of the rattlesnake for our first taste. We opted to pan fry it with a light cornmeal coating. When we got home I washed off the snake in running water and cut them into 4-5 inch long pieces. We rolled them in a mixture of corn meal, onion powder, and garlic powder, and tossed them in a pan with a few inches of hot sunflower oil. (This preparation would have worked even more nicely if we had eggs on hand to help the cornmeal stick. But it was the weekend and we get our egg deliveries from our farmer on Tuesdays. We had already eaten our week’s lot of eggs by the time we brought the snake home.)
We fried the rattlesnake in the oil until the sizzling had decreased and the pieces were a deep golden brown. Somewhere in the ballpark of 4-5 minutes/side, though of course this will depend on the thickness of your particular snake.
Anatomically, eating a rattlesnake is sort of similar to eating a bony fish. I found success with the following technique. Start on the back side of the snake and use your teeth to peel the long strips of meat away from the spine (basically, the rattlesnake version of back straps). Then use your fingers to pull the meat out from in between the ribs. Once that side is clean, flip the piece over and use your fingers to peel the meat away from the base of the ribs on that side. I will admit it’s a bit tedious, and not something you would want to eat while in a big rush.
The texture of the meat is on the tough/stringy side, and as unpleasant as that sounds when I say it, it did not negatively impact my eating experience at all. I think part of the reason for this is because you tend to eat the rattlesnake in rather small bites because of the difficulty in extracting all the meat from the bones. In fact the toughness of the meat makes it much easier to peel the meat away from the skeleton and thus aids in the whole eating process.
The taste is consistent with very mild white meat. It is rather plain, but certainly not tasteless. Most similar to chicken, though I would say even more mild than most chicken. We found that we really enjoyed eating the fried snake with a splash of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of salt (which Nick aptly dubbed the Rattlesnake Margarita). Citrus seems to pair well with the meat. Overall, we really liked the flavor of our snake.
In conclusion, I would take and eat a rattlesnake again in the future. However, I would only take a large snake (our smaller snake provided very little meat), probably at least 3 feet in length. I don’t plan to hunt them frequently, however, as rattlesnakes provide a valuable ecological service in keeping rodent populations under control. I am grateful for this interesting and delicious experience, but is very important to me to balance my desire for wild eating with the needs of my local ecosystem.
Have you eaten rattlesnake? If so, what did you think and how did you prepare it?