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Can Snakes Bite Through Leather Cowboy Boots? Let’s Find Out

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The folklore surrounding cowboy boot is that they were designed to protect a cowboy’s legs and feet from snake bites. I’ve accepted this truism without thought, but as I’ve aged, I’ve gotten more skeptical, and now I wonder if a snake can bite through leather cowboy boots.

Some snakes can bite through leather cowboy boots; however, most snakes don’t have the biting power to penetrate thick leather boots. But their thin needle-like fangs can penetrate thin leather boots and deliver a dose of venom.

If you live, hunt, or work in an area with snakes, it’s best to wear boots designed to protect your lower legs and feet from bites. Here are some styles of boots specifically made to protect your feet.

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Cowboy Boots and Snake Bites

Most snakes native to the United States can’t bite through leather cowboy boots. However, when it comes to safety and snakes, I’m a believer in overkill. These products are specifically designed to protect you from snake bites:

picture of a snake coiled up,

People are bitten by poisonous snakes in the United States every year, and even when snake bites aren’t fatal, they still cause a lot of damage. So, protect yourself against snake bite any time your in an area that is a habitat for snakes.

The most critical portion of your body to protect is your legs and feet. Reports of snakebite incidents show that about half were to the lower extremity, and of those bitten, 27% of patients were not wearing shoes.

Be careful when in an area that snakes may live and wear a pair of cowboy boots with a high shaft made of heavy leather. Also, wear heavy denim or canvas pants that reach your foot.

For even better protection, there are commercially made snake-proof leggings, chaps, and boots. If you’re interested in checking Amazon for pricing on snake proof clothing click here.

Are Cowboy boots designed to protect against snakebites?

From watching old westerns, I picked up that cowboy have tall leather shafts to protect the cowboys legs from snake bites. I often wondered if this was true, so I decided to research the issue.

Cowboy boots were initially designed for horseback riding and not to protect against snake bites. The tall shaft is made to hold the boot in place without laces and protects the rider’s lower legs from rubbing the saddle.

Because cowboy boots don’t have laces, they can pull off a rider’s foot if a rider falls from his horse, and his foot gets caught in the stirrup. Protecting against snake bites is an additional bonus.

Cowboy boots prominent heels and smooth sole were made for use with the stirrup of a saddle. Heavy leather cowboy boots provide adequate protection against snake bites.

But for even better protection, there are hunting boots specifically designed to protect your legs and feet from a snake’s bites. Click here to check prices on snake proof hunting boots.

North American snakes have a powerful bite

There are some snakes native to North America that have enough bite force to pierce leather boots.

Pit Vipers: Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths

I didn’t find any scientific studies that confirmed the bite force of pit vipers, but one veterinarian estimated that a large rattlesnake has a bite force of 150 psi, this converts to 149.9 pounds of force.

There are three pit vipers native to North America, the rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and water moccasin. These snakes are responsible for the majority of snakebites in North America.

In 2017 the National Snakebite Registry noted 4071 pit viper attacks.  Copperheads accounted for 2035, 753 were rattlesnake bites, 255 from cottonmouths, and 1,028 unknown crotalid bites.

Only two of the instances resulted in death, one from a rattlesnake and one from an unknown pit viper. The cottonmouth bites occurred in 242 seen at healthcare facilities with no fatalities.

picture of a rattle snake ready to strike,

Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnakes are members of the Viperidae (viper) family. In North America, rattlesnakes, along with cottonmouths and copperheads are by far the most common dangerous snakes.

Rattlesnakes can grow to eight feet, depending on the species, the big one is the eastern diamondback, according to the National Wildlife Federation. These snakes are thick-bodied with ridged scales that are a variety of colors and patterns.

Most species have dark diamonds, rhombuses, or hexagons patterns on a light background. The rattlesnake’s most distinguishing feature is the rattle at the end of the tail.

The rattle is made of keratinous rings, which, when vibrated as a defensive warning, create a unique sound. Other physical characteristics include facial pits, hinged fangs, and live births.

The second most distinctive physical feature of a rattlesnake is their triangular head and vertical pupils, like a cat’s eyes. Adolescent rattlesnakes that haven’t yet grown their rattles are just as dangerous as an adult snake.

Rattlesnakes feed on small warm-blooded animals such as mice and rats. Some larger snakes occasionally eat mammals as big as a rabbit. They typically will lie in wait and then strike at speeds of five-tenths of a second, when they attack their victim.

picture of a copper head snake,

Copper heads

Copperheads’ are another dangerous member of the viper snake family. They are typically 20-37 inches long though they can grow over four feet long.

A copperhead snake has a thick body that is pale tan to pinkish-tan with pale crossbands and dark brown spots. The crossbands are light tan to pinkish-tan and darker on the outside edges. Their heads are broad with symmetrical plates.

Young copperhead snakes have a yellow-tipped tail they use to lure small reptiles such as frogs and lizards. Copperheads are most commonly found in forest and wetlands, and eat small mammals and insects.

picture of a cottonmouth snake crawling through grass,

Cottonmouth snake

A cottonmouth and water moccasins are the same snakes; they are pit vipers that can bite in the water or on land. They are typically found in the Southeastern United States and East Texas.

They get the name, cottonmouth, from the white-colored membranes in its mouth.   Like the other North American pit vipers, have elliptical pupils, triangular-shaped heads, and heat-sensing pits.

Water moccasins are large snakes with a thick, strong body, and they often grow to 4 feet. They have dark stripes by each nostril and pale snouts, and a large, triangular head.

Water moccasins also have a distinct neck, unlike many other snakes. Their color goes from dark brown or black to olive, banded brown or yellow, and their bellies are paler in color than their backs.

Cottonmouths eat fish, turtles, and small mammals. Cottonmouths are aggressive and will strike when disturbed. They generally do not back down when upset.

Snakes are common around horse barns.

Encounters with snakes are common when you work around horse barns or ride in the woods. It’s essential to your health and safety to be familiar with the snakes that are native to an area and knowing what to do when you encounter one.

Snakes are the most active between April and October, the warmer weather brings them out to mate. Snakes typically strike only when they are startled or feel threatened.

These are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of being bit by a snake:

  • Don’t pick up a snake.
  • When you see a snake, move away slowly; and note that a snake’s striking distance is typically half its length.
  • Don’t reach into holes.
  • Wear leather gloves when you work with debris, logs, rocks, and other objects where a snake might be lying.
  • Wear boots with high shafts or gaiters and a thick pair of pants when working or walking in grassy or wooded areas.

Call 911 if a snake bites someone.

What you need to do if someone is bitten by a snake

  • Call emergency personnel right away, dial 911, and notify the operator of the situation. A bite from a poisonous snake is very dangerous, and antivenom needs to be administered as soon as possible.
  • Try to identify the snake. Note the color, shape of its head, and size, the more details you can provide, the easier it is to identify. This information may be crucial for treatment.
  • Try to keep the person who was bitten calm. A racing heart will spread the venom faster than a slow, steady heart rate.
  • Position the person such that the bite location is below the heart.
  • Keep the person still
  • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing 
  • To learn more about snake bites, visit the website for the National Snakebite Registry here.

FAQ

How do you break in cowboy boots?

Wearing your boots is the best way to break them in. But if they are difficult to get on and are extremely uncomfortable, hold them over a pot of boiling water, let the steam rise into the shaft, put the boots on, and walk around in them. You can learn some more ideas here:
How to Break In Cowboy Boots to Ride and Walk-in Comfort?

Are leather cowboy boots waterproof?

No, leather cowboy boots aren’t waterproof, but they are water-resistant. Excessive moisture causes untreated leather boots to dry and crack. If you intend to wear cowboy boots in water, treat them first with a product to protect the leather. To find out more about getting your leather boots wet, check out this article: Are Leather Cowboy Boots Waterproof or Good for Snow?