Shawnee National Forest


Should you

be concerned?

Shawnee National Forest snakes have been a big topic lately on social media!

I’m sure I have helped make it a topic, too. I post photos and videos of snakes I encounter on my hiking and biking adventures around the Shawnee.

For the most part, I get three types of responses:

  1. People enjoy the content because they like or are interested in snakes
  2. People are polite, but it is evident that snakes bother them or scare them
  3. People are rude, demanding I should kill them, and they name call for me to protect them

But many people who visit or want to visit the area are concerned about the snakes. And that’s perfectly fine and normal because of the bad rep that the public has placed on snakes. It opens up an opportunity for education.

And with this article, I’d like to educate you are Shawnee National Forest snakes and whether or not you should be concerned about them.


Are there many Shawnee National Forest snakes?

There are over 20 different types of snakes in the Shawnee National Forest.

There are three venomous species, including the copperhead, cottonmouth (water moccasin), and even the timber rattlesnake. All these snakes are a part of the pit viper family. They’re also hemotoxic (not neurotoxic), which means the toxicity of the venom impacts the blood. A bit more on venomous snakes later in the article.

A majority of the snake species in the Shawnee National Forest are non-venomous and generally harmless. Most will bite you if you attempt to handle them for sure. But aside from drawing some blood, that will be about all that occurs.

Many non-venomous Shawnee National Forest snakes are common and even rarely seen by people. Many people see water snakes, for example. You might see a garter snake around your yard. If you’re lucky enough, you might the more rarely seen snakes, such as the milk snake or even the mud snake, which is often considered a crowned jewel by herpetological fans.

Many harmless and non-venomous snakes often look like venomous snakes, and they are usually killed as a result. The Midland Water Snake (also commonly referred to locally as the banded water snake or the common water snake) often gets confused with a copperhead and is killed.

These snakes are scattered across the Shawnee National Forest, but some are only seen in certain areas, while others may occur in all areas of the Shawnee property boundaries.


Should you be worried about Shawnee National Forest snakes?

The short answer is no but with an emphasis on common sense and safety!

The long answer is this:

There are venomous snakes in the Shawnee. If they bite you, your pet, or your horse – it can significantly injure the victim, and if treatment isn’t sought after, the victim could very well die from a venom-infused bite.

While that sounds scary to some, we need to look at another question that is significant to this fear.

How often do people die from venomous snake bites in the Shawnee National Forest?

I’ve heavily researched this, and as far as I can tell, the last person that died from a venomous snake bit in Illinois was over 200-years ago. Yes, 200-years – two centuries ago (plus). And that person, a surveyor, wasn’t even near the Shawnee National Forest.

There are many old wives’ tales about how the family members of locals have died from the snake bites. However, there are no accurate records of these stories. Many people who claim these stories have two things in common: They often spread conspiracy theories, and the stories about the snake bites never add up. It is very safe to call them…BS.

I call it what it’s worth!

But even though I said the short answer was no, there is still a need for concern!

Venomous snakes are here. If you get bit, you could be significantly injured by either an immediate allergic reaction to the venom or not getting help. Copperheads are often the mildest of the venom-spreading bites, but they can quickly kill someone who is not treated.

Take every snake bit with precaution and seek medical attention to be sure.


How can you avoid Seeing Snakes in the Shawnee National Forest?

I cannot morally tell you there is a secret to never seeing a snake while recreating in the Shawnee National Forest.

There are snakes present, and sometimes they’re present on the trails. This is especially true in the summer because trails often provide a place to sun in the summer heat as nothing grows along the trail, slightly opening the canopy.

But you can reduce your chances of seeing snakes while recreating in the Shawnee by doing two things:

  1. Staying on the trail as much as possible – getting off the trail often increases your chance of encountering a snake.
  2. Going to popular spots with more people traffic – where people are often places snakes usually attempt to avoid.

It is also noteworthy that most snakes “hibernate” during the cold months. Like many of us humans, snakes prefer warm temperatures and sunny days. It is infrequent to see a snake in the cold winter unless there is enough sunlight to get them out of its den for a little while.

But if you see a snake on or near the trail, don’t panic! Here is what you do:

Give them plenty of space and walk around them. Make sure you watch where you step as you walk around them. Space-wise? If possible, maybe 4 to 8 feet, which should be OK for avoiding contact. Most snakes will sit very still, hoping that you (the scary giant) will not see them!

You guessed it! Snakes are more scared of people than we will ever be scared of them. And they should be, we can be faster than most of them without running, and we’re 100-times larger than them. We have limbs, too. They gape, shake their tails or rattles, and aggressively move around or attempt a strike often because they are in terror of our presence.

Wildlife fears us, but that’s understandable. We’re the only living things that will shoot at them and wipe out their ecosystem in masses.

Wouldn’t you be scared, too? I know I would…


What should you do if you get bit by a snake in the Shawnee National Forest?

Venomous or not, treat all bites as potentially venomous!

Unless you know for sure because you’re a snake expert, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Watch the bite victim or yourself if you’re the victim for hives, swelling, or breathing difficulties, as these will be symptoms of an allergic reaction to the venom. Not everyone will have an allergic reaction. If a reaction occurs and an epi-pen is available, don’t hesitate to use it. If antihistamines are available, use them.

Whether an allergic reaction occurs, seek medical attention from a local hospital or EMS.

If you have a cell phone signal – call 911 immediately.

Don’t try to collect the snake. Doing so risks further bites that could be deadly.

Snake bite extraction kits are proven to be ineffective. They often damage skin tissue, require further medical attention, and lead to other infections.

If you avoid medical attention after getting bit by a venomous snake, you could become very sick, lose limbs, get a terrible infection, and even die.

Follow the advice of the CDC concerning venomous snake bites.

Most hospitals in southern Illinois situated near the Shawnee National Forest carry anti-venom.


Should I hate or try to harm snakes in the Shawnee National Forest?

No and no!

First, you need to fully understand that snakes are considered wildlife in the Shawnee National Forest. It is entirely unlawful to handle, harm, kill, or collect most snakes anywhere in the Shawnee National Forest as they’re considered protected wildlife.

Handling, harming, killing, and collecting snakes on Shawnee boundaries can result in a significant fine and even jail time.

It would be best to never give in to the ignorance spread by brain-washed people who think the only good snake is a dead snake. It is sociopathic behavior for people to kill small animals for no reason other than conspiracy theories and Urban Legends.

Should you hate them? No. You can want to avoid them. Please do what you have to do to avoid them. You can dislike seeing them or being near them. There is nothing wrong with that. But in the end, snakes are wildlife, and why hate wildlife? For being wild?

Do you know what causes the most injuries and fatalities in the Shawnee National Forest?

It isn’t snakes…

It is falls! People get too close to the edge of cliffs and fall. People slip on wet rock and fall. People fall down waterfalls. Some walk away with scrapes and cuts; some have to be rescued by emergency responders, and many die. A few fatalities and a hoard of injuries from falling occur each year in the Shawnee National Forest.

So, statistically and accurately speaking, you have a better chance of being injured or dying from falling from a fatal height than by a venomous snake bite in the Shawnee or anywhere else in the entire State of Illinois.

And that hazard can be avoided entirely by watching where you step. It’s common sense. That same common sense can be applied to snake bite defense. Watch where you step to avoid a negative encounter with a snake.


How do you overcome your fear of Shawnee National Forest snakes?

You can easily overcome any fear through logical thinking and education.

Spend some time researching snakes, especially those in this area.

For example, research how calm and mild-mannered timber rattlesnakes are. Out of the dozens I’ve encountered, I’ve only witnessed a handful rattle, and that was because I got too close and startled them by accident. Once I backed up, the rattling ceased.

Research on the medical advanced that venomous snakes have brought to humans.

Research the number of snakebite deaths versus dog bite deaths. If we treated dogs like we did snakes, there would be a massive outcry. But in reality, dogs kill more people than snakes do, and many victims of dogs are children.

And lastly, go with someone who knows and understands snakes and watch them in person with that expert. If you ever get the opportunity, participate in a workshop led by Jeremy Schumacher in southern Illinois. He is a local snake expert, photographer, and forester. He has helped many people overcome their fear of snakes. He has even led people into liking snakes. He helped me fact-check portions of this article and often helped correct me when I occasionally misidentified a snake because I am NOT a snake expert by any means.

But I definitely love snakes and am highly passionate about protecting them.


What can you do to help protect snakes in the Shawnee National Forest?

There are a few things you can do!

If you encounter snakes while recreating in the National Forest, feel free to take photos and videos. But do me a favor if you would! Don’t share the location of the snake, especially the more sensitive types such as copperheads, rattlesnakes, and the works.

I ask this because while you enjoy them and want to show others who enjoy them, there are people out there watching who hate snakes enough to try to find them and kill them. Some people like to handle or collect them illegally!

By not sharing the location of snakes you encounter, you are helping to protect them!

If asked, say what county you saw them in or what major portion of the forest (i.e., Garden of the Gods Wilderness, Giant City, etc.).

If you witness someone harming, killing, handling, or collecting snakes in the Shawnee National Forest – Report them immediately (if you can do so safely) to US Forest Service Law Enforcement by calling or texting 1-618-201-3364. You can remain anonymous!

If you see photos or other media on social networks depicting people killing or even holding dead snakes (especially protected rattlesnakes) in the Shawnee National Forest, take a screenshot of the website and contact the US Forest Service Law Enforcement listed above and report it. Your evidence can help lead to a criminal conviction.

If you have a friend, family member, child, or are a member of a group of people who hate snakes – educate them and try to convince them in a friendly manner of why they shouldn’t hate them.

Continue to promote education and logical experiences of Shawnee National Forest snakes on social media to show people they’re not as bad as some claim they are.


What are some common snake myths around the Shawnee National Forest?

There are many myths centered around Shawnee National Forest snakes. While some are far out there and humorous, many of these myths turn into conspiracy theories that spread rapidly and cause people to take drastic actions like killing snakes.

Let’s debunk some of these myths with logic and proven results!

Myth #1: The Forest Service intentionally planted rattlesnakes in the Shawnee National Forest. This is a myth because rattlesnakes naturally occur in the Shawnee National Forest. They likely occurred in more areas of the state at one time before early pioneer settlers cut all the trees down. If anything, rattlesnakes are starting to disappear from the Shawnee National Forest.

Myth #2: Snakes will chase you. This is one of those funny myths. Sometimes snakes may flee in the same direction as you are going. But try to think about this logically! Our field of view covers way more territory than what a snake sees. It is not seeing as much as we are; it is just scared and trying to get away. However, an interesting fact is this may not be fully a myth.

Myth #3: Snakes kill people frequently. While snakes occasionally kill people with their venom, it doesn’t happen as much as people claim. People often claim distant relatives die from bites but have no actual evidence to back it up. People say mountain lions are thick in the Shawnee, but where is the evidence?

Myth #4: Snakes will bite their tails, forming a circle and wheel at you. I wish this weren’t a myth! Do you realize how extraordinary an encounter of that nature would be? There would be a lot of video and photos since we all have crystal clear cameras in our pockets. But since there is no footage, like with poor Bigfoot, this is just a myth!

Myth #5: Snakes are aggressive and want to bite. This is a widespread myth. Snakes are defensive, not aggressive. If you encounter a cottonmouth, for example, and get too close to it, the snake will likely open its mouth and gape at you while making sudden movements and rapidly shaking its tail. It is warning you to stay back. It has no arms or legs, so it is limited in how it can defend itself. That isn’t aggression. That’s defense from fear. Snakes are 100-times more scared of you than you’ll ever be of them.

Myth #6: Snakes are evil. Again, this is entirely a myth. Any wildlife that can defend itself will defend itself. Defense isn’t evil – it is nature and instinct. I mean, how can they be that evil? It’s not like they have invented the hydrogen bomb!

Myth #7: If you find a baby snake, the mom is nearby. This is a myth. Snakes do not share paternal instincts as humans and mammals often have. Snakes will birth (egg or live) to their babies and abandon them shortly after. The babies are instinctually able to know how to continue living without the dependency of their parents.

Myth #8: Baby snakes are more dangerous in venomous bites. This is another common myth. Most baby snakes that go on their first hunt are wholly equipped to control their venom. Remember, they’re instinctually ready to be snakes shortly after birth. Smaller snakes may often have less venom than larger ones. But you should still avoid attempting to handle small snakes.


And that’s about it for Shawnee National Forest snakes. I know that my article will not be convincing enough to change some people’s minds about their hatred for snakes. But I do hope it has helped calm some of you. You should come to visit the Shawnee National Forest and practice common sense to avoid bad snake encounters. Don’t let the myths of snakes stop you from the wonderful memories you’ll make by enjoying the National Forest and our state parks. I want to note that you see so many photos and videos of snakes from me because we intentionally look for them. We like snakes, and we enjoy snake watching. If you’ve enjoyed this article – please give it a share!


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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!



Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. I hope you enjoy my website and I encourage you to interact with me!

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