On the other hand I don't care for snakes in general and while I will not kill a corn, rat-snake or similar, but many a banded water snake has been fed lead (or steel if federal regulations require) because i couldn't tell what it was soon enough. When in doubt shoot it out. If I can't tell in a hurry what it is I kill the crap out of it. It is easier to tell what kind they are when they are dead. When they are alive any snake swimming or around the water are Cottonmouths until proven otherwise.
Spiders are similar, for years I liked spiders as beneficial and more often than not just tossed them outside rather than kill them. My wife hated it and wanted them all dead. After two brown recluse bites, one black widow bite, one banana spider bite, and several unknown spider bites I KILL each and every spider I see.
wayne, that is not true. TRUST ME they are west of the trinity river! a few close encounters myself while out hunting and camping. Beleive me, they don't like to be stepped on:p. Best invesment I've ever made was probably my camo snake boots
Fact: Alabama has more snakes per square mile than any other place on earth. So yes, I deal with snakes almost DAILY. Most of the ones I see are water snakes but me and my sons have shot a few cottonmouths this year. And yes I do know what a cottonmouth is.
Last night me and my 17 y.o. son were feeding the dogs and there was a 3' rat snake in the barn. Spooked me when I first saw him but we didn't kill him.
One of the ways to quickly tell if it's a cottonmouth or a water snake if it is swimming is how their body is in the water. A water snake swims with more of its body underwater with it's head out of the water and a cottonmouth is more buoyant and swims with more of it's body on top of the water. I realize most people aren't going to wait to see but if you're in a boat or have time this is usually a good indication. PS I'm not a snake lover!
Fwiw, this is a water snake, perhaps trying to pose as a "triangle shaped" headed venomous snake:
And these are some little cottonmouths showing their signature flattop, like the old hair cuts with straight sides and flat top meeting at acute angles:
(Another "signature" that one displays is that they frequently, though not always, swim or float with much of their bodies out of the water.)
(Those last two wee ones also show the yellow tail tips they sport as babies.)
Well that's not my opinion on the subject it's a fact that WM's are more buoyant and swim with their heads higher out of the water and water snakes swim with a lower head set and with more of their bodies under the surface. I'm not disagreeing with your experience but what I stated is usually accepted when dealing with WM's and water snakes. Either way I'm not a fan of snakes.