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Rattlesnake catchers seeing more business as summer days warm up

May 30, 2023

By Ryan Yamamoto

Updated on: July 27, 2023 / 6:07 AM / CBS San Francisco

Warmer temperatures and more sunny days in the North Bay, means residents and hikers can expect to see, and hear more rattlesnakes along trails and their property, and that's good business for James McCloskey.

"The season is really starting ramp up," said McCloskey, a professional rattlesnake catcher. "Inspections are keeping me busy, probably three to four a week, and the calls for removal are starting to pick up too."

On most days, you will find McCloskey armed with snake gaiters, and a couple of snake poles while he pokes around homes in Napa and Sonoma counties, looking and listening for rattlers.

"You never get used to that sound," said McCloskey. "It is always very alarming."

During a property inspection in Napa, he pointed out some of the rattlesnakes' favorite hiding spots.

"Rock walls are pretty notorious for juvenile rattlesnakes, even large ones," said McCloskey. "They like to hide in the crannies and create a safe space from birds, hawks and coyotes."

The snakes also like to hide in debris piles of brush and lumber, especially if they can find a quick meal.

"I always tell clients if you have critters, mice or rodents on your property, then you have snakes," McCloskey said.

Two years ago, McCloskey started his North Bay Rattlesnake removal company after leaving his job to pursue a childhood passion of catching snakes his family farm.

Today, the kid in him uses a snake selfie-stick to post videos on social media and show people how he captures them.

"My wife thought it would be cool to get some video and footage of it," he said. "And it is a good educational tool to help people to identify them, and it is also fun to get up close and personal to snakes."

So how do you know if you have a rattlesnake on your property?

"Well, first you will likely hear them before you see them. It will surprise you with the sound of a water hose leak," said McCloskey. "They will be coiled up in the striking position, and their head is shaped like diamond, and it gets even bigger when they are agitated."

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake can grow up to 3-feet in length, and often gets confused with gopher snakes that can grow much longer.

"If the snake is more than 4-feet, it is probably a gopher snake," said McCloskey. "But they are likely to mimic rattlers by coiling up and shaking their tail."

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, "a person may kill a rattlesnake without a permit or license" – meaning property owners can protect themselves.

But McCloskey does not kill his catches; instead, he tries to relocate them.

"They are good species; they keep down the rodents. They just don't belong near people's homes, pets and children," he said. "We make sure we can coexist, and no one gets hurt."

I was born in Oakland, grew up in the East Bay and went to college in San Francisco where I graduated with a degree in Broadcasting at San Francisco State University (Go Gators!).

First published on July 27, 2023 / 8:13 AM

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