July 25, 2016
July 25, 2016

Rattles: Fact and Fiction

Did you know rattlesnakes roam the southeastern corner of the state?

When thinking of the venomous snakes in the region, the cottonmouth, copperhead and to a lesser extent, the coral snake come to mind. However, rattlesnakes are indigenous to the region.

The timber or canebrake rattlesnake is the one most commonly encountered, and they are present from the northern reaches of Orange and Jefferson Counties on through the Pineywoods region.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, they have a heavy, light yellow, gray or greenish-white body with a rust-colored strip along the length of their back and a black tail is tipped with rattles. 

“Timber rattlesnakes have yellow eyes with elliptical or cat-like pupils. Twenty to 29 dark, V-shaped crossbars with jagged edges form a distinctive pattern across their back.”

As rattlers go, they are docile in most circumstances, and there are few instances of people being bitten by these beautifully marked pit vipers.

They are however, subject of an ongoing urban legend of sorts that we first proved untrue on these pages in 2006.

Here it goes.

According to the story, in a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the venomous reptiles at various locations within Texas’s National Forest land.

It is unclear which government agency is responsible, but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) project.

I say “story” but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle’s brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett—hundreds of them.

Where did these stories originate?

Well, rattlesnakes have technically been “released” into certain areas in the Pineywoods. However, scientists did not breed them in captivity, and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.

These “released” rattlesnakes simply had been captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnakes were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.

There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.

According to TPWD endangered species specialist, Ricky Maxey, the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.

“I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont,” Maxey said. “And we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. It seems the rumors are still pretty rampant.”

“Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters, and the rumor could have started there,” he said. “Then again, it could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it’s told.”

The pigmy rattlesnake is also present in the Pineywoods region, and is very rarely seen. I have only seen one and that was in 2000 on my old deer lease in Newton County.

These snakes only attain lengths of around 18 inches and are super reclusive. They are most often seen crossing roads in the evening, and are a true enigma in the region. Most outdoor lovers are not even aware of their presence.

Diamondback rattlesnakes also are in the region, at least are dwelling in areas few people would expect. A capture reported to us by veteran local meteorologist Greg Bostwick two years ago gave us the first glimpse of area diamondbacks.

“The snake was captured alive about one mile south of my house in Chambers County and was about 4.5 feet long,” Bostwick said.

The snake was found north of Winnie, and that is not typical diamondback territory. In fact, there aren’t supposed to be any until you get a bit west of Houston, moving toward the Hill Country and southward on the coast in the Matagorda area. That is at least according to some field guides.

If you look closer, however, you can see there has been a population on Galveston Island for many years. In fact, we ran a story about the county putting up warning signs about the snakes at the courthouse there.

Mike Hoke, recently retired director of Shangri-La Botanical Gardens said there was a diamondback found during an expedition a while back at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, I spoke with a reliable source last year who reported killing a diamondback near the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Both of these snakes were believed to have been western diamondbacks, which are indigenous to the western 2/3 of Texas. However, the reason for three sightings/captures since our spate of Hurricanes in the last six years is interesting.

Texas is home to a large variety of rattlesnakes, most of which are rarely seen except for those who pursue them for study in the Trans Pecos region of the state. I will be blogging about these various rattlers on the My Kingdom Zoo blog at this month so make sure to check that out.

For now, rest assured there are no secret agencies stocking rattlesnakes on your deer lease. Although, that doesn’t mean you don’t have plenty of rattlers lurking in the brush.

—by Chester Moore





S&W Performance Center M & P Shield

Every year I teach defensive pistol shooting lessons to dozens of students. More often than not, shooters bring handguns that are just too small to use properly in an aggressive defensive scenario.

The M&P Performance Center Shield had very controllable recoil due to the barrel porting. It loved Black Hills 115 grain hollow points.

Small pistols are easy to carry, but when they are too small they are difficult to shoot well. However, many armed citizens can’t carry a full-sized handgun, and it’s much more comfortable to carry a smaller piece. I think the S&W Shield is a great compromise of size and power.

The Shield comes chambered in either 9mm or .40S&W. For this review I tested the Performance Center Shield that comes with the upgrades of a ported barrel and slide, fiber optic or night sights, tuned trigger, and extra magazines.

On first impression I thought the Shield might have a bit too thin of a backstrap for comfortable shooting. Although thin frames are easier to conceal, smaller pistols tend to sting the palm of the shooter’s hand. However, the Shield didn’t prove to be uncomfortable at all. Perhaps the compensator ports in the barrel dampened the shock more than I expected. 

I’ve seen arguments that ported barrels are not ideal for defense because of the blast in the shooter’s face. This results in an extra-blinding powder flash in low light scenarios, as well as blowback in your face from odd shooting positions.

I decided to try shooting from a retention position to see if this would be a problem. It was.

I shot one round from the hip when my chin caught something that shot out from the ports and caused me to bleed slightly. This could be a problem in a defense situation, so further testing was necessary.

I took a sheet of cardboard and laid it directly over the top of the pistol’s ports and fired several rounds. Nothing ever penetrated or stuck in the cardboard, it just had black, burn marks. So maybe my small injury was a fluke, but I didn’t want to test it any further from the retention position.

The trigger improvement was most noticeable compared to  the standard Shield. I’ve said several times about the M&P line that it’s a fine pistol, but the stock trigger is junk. The Performance Center Shield was much improved. It’s not perfect, it still has creep, almost a jump of a second stage, and a 5.75 pound pull. That’s still heavier than my liking, but for a defensive compact pistol it’s acceptable.

The Performance Center Shield comes with a safety that isn’t my personal preference, also. Besides the internal safeties the trigger also has the half hinge safety, just like its older brother M&P, so I feel it’s unnecessary to add another training regimen of an external safety to a pistol. While I carried this for testing, I decided to not use the safety. However, I found that the safety did activate itself once rendering the trigger useless on the draw. 

At the moment the only Shields that come without a safety are the non-Performance Center models, this is probably because of liability issues with a firearm with a lighter trigger. You would just need to be mindful of this feature.

The fiber optic sights are a nice touch during daylight, but at night they are useless. The good news is that now you can get the Performance Center Shield with tritium night sights. That would solve the low light problem.

The 9mm Shield comes with a flush fitting seven-round magazine and an extended, eight-round magazine. I found myself changing which magazine was in the pistol as my method of concealment changed. The 40 S&W version will cut capacity by one round.

On the range I found the Shield seems to be zeroed for lighter bullets. My usual 147-grain loads flew several inches high at 25 yards. 124 grain was a little lower but still high. The 115-grain Black Hills were right on target.

From 10 yards I was able to get nearly every shot touching, so the Shield will have no trouble satisfying standard defensive range accuracy demands. If you are considering a compact concealment handgun that is accurate and easy to shoot, check out the new Performance Center Shield by Smith and Wesson.

—Dustin Ellerman



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