By Scott Matthew Quint

     Going out into th e field to find herps is fun and can be enjoyed  with a minimum of expense. However, many people take this hobby very seriously and want to make sure that they have the best gear to maximize results and enjoyment. When going into the outdoors you should always dress appropriately and bring along any essential items that you would ordinarily need during the day. Also, if you are going further than you would like to walk, be sure that you have reliable transportation and that your vehicle has a spare tire and any other emergency equipment. Packing a lunch is another good idea, but, of course, that is discretionary.

     There are different techniques for field herping (Road Cruising, Flipping, Habitat Hunting, etc.), and each method can call for special equipment. Some snakes can be very dangerous, and many herps can be very hard to find. Having the right gear can help make your trip safe, successful and rewarding. Listed below are the different types of equipment you may require. This is meant to describe the different types of equipment that are frquently used. You must decide for yourself which items are right for you and your activities.

     Lights are especially important items when searching for herps. Many herps hide in dark places, and many herpers like to road cruise at night. If you are herping during the day, you may find youself looking in tree hollows or in holes in the ground or amongst large rocks. For these things, a simple flashlight is sufficient. When selecting a flashlight, select one that has some power. Cheap flashlights malfunction and usually do not put out much light. Also, make sure that the batteries are fresh before you go out. I have had many animals get away because of inadequate lighting.
     When road cruising, the vehicles headlamps are the primary lighting. However, animals on the road are often seen at close distances and are often passed.  This means  you will be running back to get them in the dark. How far back is often misjudged, and depending on what it is, it can get off the road quickly. Even with a good flashlight, it may be difficult to find the animal. When road cruising, I prefer a hand held spotlight. When I get out of the car and run back, I bathe the road in 3,000,000 candlepower (500,000 is sufficient but I love overkill). With this amount of light, I can see a good distance back and see the road right of way. Having more light
is good for photography as well. When using lights that are this powerful, you must be very careful where you point it. You can easily blind another motorist, or flash nearby residences, and even damage the animals vision.  Remember, with great candle-power come great responsibility.
     Many herps that come out at night, do not cross the roadways. So, often, the field herper will have to walk along canal banks or forest edges to find them. In these circumstances, a flashlight is woefully inadequate, even a good one. The field of view that they provide is very narrow. The spotlight puts out more light, but has two problems: they blast a lot of light in a narrow area (which forces you to focus only in that area), and they are heavy.  For this kind of searching, I prefer a portable flourescent lamp. The florescent lamp is good because it weighs little, and although it puts out less light, it puts out light in a more even, wider area, which allows you to use peripheral vision. Be warned, though, they are very expensive.
     If looking for snakes, snake hooks can be very useful. These simple devices are nothing more than a metal stick with a recurved end. The tips are flattened for scooping, the well of the hook is shaped to allow a snakes body to rest there
without sliding off and the end portion is usually straight so it can be used to pin down the head (not a recommended practice). Before these items were commercialy manufactured, they were fashioned from hoes and other garden implements. If you use one in the field, it should be made from steel so that it can be used to help flip items and to help rake through debris and detritus piles. Aluminum can bend easily and wears quickly.
     If you are after venomous snakes or will be where there are venomous snakes, these are a must. You do not want to compromise your safety by putting your hands under boards to flip them. But even if you are looking for non-venomous snakes, these can help you handle them without being bitten.
     Snake hooks come in various lengths and shapes and are crafted in different ways. I usually only use them to assist in flipping or to sweep venomous snakes off the roadway or into a container, so I prefer a short sturdy hook. However, longer hooks are safer for greater manipulation of large venomous snakes. Smaller, lighter hooks are good for cage use and for smaller snakes.  For very small venomous snakes, I prefer Kitchen Tongs (see below).
Tongs/Grabbing Devices
     As any experienced field herper knows, animals, even dangerous ones, almost always flee when humans approach and it is clear that they are seen. If you are attempting to capture a venomous snake or a centipede or something else that can harm you, and it is in flight, you have three choices: you can let it go, you can head it off, or you can grab it. Letting it go presents no problems other than the loss of the quarry, heading it off only delays letting it go or grabbing it unless you can get the animal to go into a container, but can be dangerous in other ways, and grabbing it will stop the escape, but may get you bitten unless you use a tool to do the grabbing.
     If the snake is small you can simply use common kitchen tongs. They can be a little awkward, but they do work and are quite inexpensive. These are espcially good for small pit-vipers or coral snakes, as well as centipedes, but if the animal struggles, you will have to use more force than
you might think is appropriate. It's OK to squeeze little, but it is best to grasp lightly and laft calmly so the snake never gets excited and struggles. Standard tongs have uncoated tips, so you may want to get some brush on latex from a hobby shop and coat them. This adds friction and softens the grip so the risk of injury to the snake is reduced.
     For larger snakes, there are specially manufactured grabbers, called snake tongs. These are rugged devices and come in varying lengths. They are excellent for grabbing snakes, crocodilians or other large animals,
however they are really meant for snakes. Be advised, though they are useful for grabbing something before it can dive into the water or into a hole, They can apply tremendous pressure and can easily injure the snake. Large pit-vipers are especially susceptible to injury if their weight is not appropriately supported, so never lift a snake with the tongs. Also, avoid grabbing the head as snakes, and especially pit-vipers, have very delicate skulls.
     If you are collecting animals and actually removing them from the wild, you will need containers in which to store them for transportation. There are many types of things that can be used, but they will all fit into two basic categories: hard and soft.
     Soft containers are typically some type of cloth sack. Soft containers have the advantage of being easy to store and easy to seal. Many people just use pillow cases, but even better are cloth bags specifically made for holding herps. Cloth bags should be made from light (not thick or heavy) fabric with a moderate thread count. Since they will often be tied to seal them, it is better if they are tall and narrow. A well made bag will have the corners sewn so that they can be held without fearing being bitten through the bag.
     Hard containers can be boxes, jars, sealable kitchen containers, etc. They provide better protection for the animal and are usually more suitable for small specimens and amphibians. They can be rather bulky, however, and are not secure unless designed to seal. Also, because they are made from solid materials they must usually be altered to allow animals to breath. It is bect to select containers made from plastic and, if possible should be clear so you can tell what is inside. When using containers of this type, you should place some kind of substrate or, at least, a crumpled paper towel so the animals feel less exposed. Screw-on lids are better than snap on lids becaused they are more safely applied and removed.
     When storing dangerous animals such as venomous snakes, be sure to mark those containers clearly. I use red electrical tape wrapped around the knot of bags, or around the lid of hard containers. This makes it much more obvious when moving them around and so proper precautions can be taken.
Baggers and Buckets
   Baggers are devices that aid in capturing herps. They are very much like a net on a pole but with a fabric instead of a mesh for the net. These are used to assist in collecting specimens without having to handle them. Buckets serve the same purpose, only less fancy. Both items are especially useful for venomous snakes.
     Baggers are used by using the pole to hold the wire supported bag in front of the snake and by directing the animal into the bag. Then the bag must be twisted or wrapped to prevent the snake from escaping. In most cases the bag is fixed to the support ring and so the snake must be transfered to another container soon after capture.
     The bucket is, in my opinion, more practical. Use a 5 gallon paint bucket and line it with a standard pillow case. You can use a hook to hold the bucket on its side and guide snake into it. Then set it upright and replace the lid. Once lidded, hold the lid down and pull the edges of the bag over it and then turn it so the twist traps the snake in the bottom. Now you can safely tie the bag and remove it from the bucket.
     Keeping records of your finds ads a new dimension to your activities.  By writing down what you find as well as where you found it and under what conditions, you can learn more efficiently and get better at finding things. Records also keep exaggerated recollections in check and may even be interesting to other people or the local zoo or museum.
     A field log should be small and easy to carry, but should
also have a decent cover to protect the pages. A simple, small ring-binder should be adequate, but feel free to bring along  lap-top computer if you think that better. You should take pictures. A picture makes a lasting memory, whether you collect the specimens or not. It's a good idea to always have a camera, digital or film. having a camera is also makes for an easy explanation if you are confronted by local denizen or law-enforcement authorities. Not that what you are doing is wrong or illegal, it's just easier to say that you are taking pictures of wildlife than to explain why you like to look for reptiles.
Tracking Equipment
     Assuming that you are going to log your adventures, you may also want to take it one step further. Whether you use the roads to find herps or you go into the woods, it is sometimes difficult to find some locations again. Even if you use a map and you are on a road, it may not be easy. Many species of reptiles and amphibians have very discrete populations and you may find them somewhere along a 16 mile stretch of highway that has few landmarks. Or, you simply want to track your finds very closely. In these cases, a GPS (Global Positioning System) is quite handy. With one of these, you can mark exactly locations that you want to remember and have no problem returning to them, even if you found the place by getting lost. I have several locations where I could not have found them again if not for my GPS. It's also a good way to tell someone where you are in case there is an emergency. These have come down in price and have improved on precision lately.
Field Kit
     Field Kits are not exclusive to herping, but it is necessary to bringthem up. Field kits are part first aid kit and part survival kit. It is really nothing more than an encased collection of things that you may need in case of an emergency or thongs that you need every time you go out into the woods. At the very least it should have some antiseptic, some adhesive bandages, a compass and map of the area, a knife, some way to start a fire, a disposable raincoat, spare socks and bug spray. I could become much more elaborate of course, but need not be. It's simply better to be prepared. Whatever you put in your field kit, it should be small enopugh so that it is no burden to carry (or else you won't carry it!) and complete enough to cover any forseeable needs. You can easily assemble your own, or you can purchase one already assembled.
     For those of us who go out herping far and wide, the map is extremely valuable. Sometimes you go to known locations, but the Coastal Plains is a big place and there are many, many places to find herps. So many, in fact , that it may be a long time between visits to any one location, and if the location is in another area than where you live, you may be hard pressed to finfd them again. Maps serve to navigate new areas as well as mark found ones. Simple road maps will do, but the atlas type map books with topographical and GPS information are best. Do not forget your pen.
     As a matter of safety and efficiency, you should always have a means of communicating with others. At the very least, you should always carry a cellular phone in case you get stranded or injured. Even if you have no service, you can make emergency calls to 911 and you can usually make any call with a credit card. It is best to get a rugged phone that has enough power to find towers even in low reception areas. In general, though, having a cell phone is just smart. An up-to-date roadside assistance membership is also a good idea.
     It is also a good idea to be connected with your herping partners. Using public channel radios is a cheaper alternative to using cell phones. These are useful if you go out with others and are in separate vehicles, or if you are out in the field and split up to cover more ground. It

can be quite frustrating to be out scouting around with someone and to not be able to find them. It is also unsafe. These radios all advertise ranges up tp two miles, but I have never gotten better than about a mile, even on the highway. No matter, if you are in the field, you will seldom be separated by  your partners by more than a couple hundred yards of straight line distance, so they are all adequate. Just be sure to get radios that are durable and as water resistant as possible.
Field Guides/References
     For those of you who can identify every frog, lizard, turtle, salamander and snake in the entire Coastal Plains and know their ranges in exact detail and can describe their ideal habitats, I salute you. I have been field herping for 25 years and I still need a reference for many things. Having a field guide on hand is good for identifying animals with which you are unfamiliar, but also for refreshing the memory on ideal habitats or range boundaries. Whether, you are a novice or a seasoned expert, it is always best to have some reference on hand. The reference need not be about herps, either. Being able to identify trees, birds, mammals or even insects can make the field experience richer and more rewarding.
Permits and Licenses
     When going into the field to collect wildlife, be sure that you are well versed in all of your states laws regarding that activity. Contact your state wildlife agency and find out what permits are required, if any, and what animals are protected. Always keep a copy of any permits with you.
     Being in the field presents many possible threats to your safety. Bears, feral pigs and dogs, and humans are all real real concerns. These concerns may cause you to consider carrying a weapon. Use careful discretion when choosing to go armed. Be sure that you know the laws governing such action and that you are appropriately trained and licensed if you plan to carry. In general, you are legally safer the further south you go.
     If you do carry a weapon consider the following points:
  • All land is owned by someone. Wherever you are, simply having a weapon will carry consequences. If you are tresspassing on private land, armed tresspass is a greater offense in some states. If you are in a wildlife preserve or park, there may be rules about weapons. Be conscious of these things at all times.
  • You will be bending at the waist all day long. Carry a weapon that is light and as featurless as possible so that it is comfortable to carry.
  • Your weapon may get wet, dirty, damaged or lost. At best, make sure it is rugged, at least, make sure it is replaceable.
  • Some people will treat you like a criminal if they know you are armed. This is especially true in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. You may be confronted by a police officer or wildlife resource officer, and possession of a weapon may affect the way you are treated.
     Unless you know exactly what you are doing and are keenly aware of all the ramifications, I advise against carrying a weapon.
     This list of equipment is by no means all that is available. There are many more tools and gadgets that can be brought along. This should get you started, however, and before going into the field you should do your research and decide what other implements may be useful to you.
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