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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Snipe: Fact or fiction?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You can tell it's hunting time since I received my official snipe hunting field guide, which included a master snipe hunter patch, a booklet of snipe hunting lore and a printed snipe gunnysack.

Yes, there is such a bird called snipe and yes, hunters do shoot them with a shotgun and never use a gunnysack to catch them, in spite of what you may have heard.

The official snipe hunting guide is filled with useful information about the snipe themselves. Hilarious, but informative descriptions of their habitat, food preferences, their mating habits and the proven methods of successful snipe hunters.

Veteran snipe hunters, and there are few in Missouri, might find some humor in the guide and could use it to teach a beginner how to go after these fast-flying migratory birds.

Seriously folks, snipe hunting is real and although many people have only "hunted" them with a gunnysack, there is a real bird that furnishes some good hunting as well as good table fare.

The season on snipe opened Sept. 1, along with the dove season and continues thru Dec. 16, with a daily limit of eight birds and 16 in possession. I have hunted snipe for more than 20 years and have yet to see a hunter with a limit.

Larry Thomas, Richmond, told me about snipe hunting many years ago, but I had heard about how you go into the night armed with a gunnysack and are left holding the bag. However, Thomas said, "The snipe is a real bird and it's fun to hunt and really good eating."

I found out how good they are one October day while hunting near Swan Lake. On the way to a goose pit at Donald Dean Foster's farm near Sumner, I flushed a bird with a long bill and erratic flight.

I knew they must be snipe, so I changed shells from No. 4 shot to No. 8. After missing the first shot, my first snipe fell on the second shot and I had my first taste of snipe.

After taking six birds, we fixed the birds for dinner and found out just how good they were. The late Alan Guffey once told me that he was like me at first, he didn't think much about eating snipe, but after he tried one, he offered his son, Brian, money to get him some more. "They are really good," he said.

Since that first successful snipe hunt, I have bagged snipe nearly every season, both in north and south Missouri and usually had no competition for the birds. There are few snipe hunters just like there aren't many rail or woodcock hunters and that's fine with me.

Contrary to the old story about how easy snipe are to catch, for example, they don't go right up to the open mouth of a gunnysack. Shooting a fast-flying snipe is akin to shooting at a fast-flying, darting dove.

Snipe are similar to woodcock at first sight, but they are smaller and faster. On a hunt near the Missouri River, I shot a snipe and a woodcock and had both birds mounted to show people the difference, but those who weren't hunters thought I was putting them on. "There is no such thing as a snipe," they would say.

It reminds me of when my young son, David, was in school and took the Iowa Basic test. One question asked, "Is the snipe, (A) a real bird, (B) an imaginary bird or (C) something else?" David, having hunted snipe, marked (A).

However, it was marked incorrect. He sent a letter including a photo of a snipe to prove his point. That question isn't on the test anymore.

There are two ways to hunt snipe. First-time hunters usually get a group of hunters together and agree which one will be the sack holder. Naturally, the task of holding the sack is the most coveted position of the hunt, as nothing is more exciting than watching a wild-eyed snipe spring from the underbrush in search of a safe place.

Also, the sack holder is the less strenuous part of the hunt. While everyone else tramples through the bushes, the sack holder has the easy task of keeping the candle lit and tooting the whistle.

Seasoned snipers agree, for safety's sake, the greenhorn must be assigned the responsibility of holding the gunnysack. When the official sack holder has been chosen, the next thing to do is to clear all the leaves and dead brush where the candle will be placed so as to not start a big fire and scare the snipe.

The sack holder is instructed on how to keep the mouth of the sack open. The candle is then lit and placed about a foot in front of the sack. The light omitted from the candle will attract the snipe just like a bug zapper attracts bugs.

Nine times out of 10, if the sack holder remains still until the bull snipe runs by the candle. The rest of the flock will follow, so the holder must quickly close the sack.

It rarely happens, but once in a while the sack holder will fail to catch a single snipe during the night's hunt. Not that the holder did anything wrong, most likely there just weren't any birds in the area that night.

After your first snipe hunt of this nature, a hunter is automatically enshrined into the realm of American snipelore forever more.

The other way to hunt snipe is to look for a marshy spot where the birds are feeding. When you find a place where the birds are using, get ready for some fast action. Few hunters get their limit of eight birds, but they do get some great hunting, unlike the sack holder.

A bonus of snipe hunting is that the season on dove and rail is also open and, often, you may get shots at these small migratory birds while snipe hunting.

Remember, before you go snipe hunting, you need a migratory bird hunting permit. You might also take along a camera in case you bag a bird to prove to the non-believers that there is a real bird called snipe.



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Ken White
Outdoor Living