Close up of Wilson's snipe (Gallinago delicata) bird on the shores of a pond in Merced National Wildlife Refuge, Central California
Sundry Photography via Getty Images

Snipe Hunting 101: How to Bird Hunt on the Beachfront

Want to go on a snipe hunt? If you're from the United States, you've likely been a victim of this practical joke when you were younger. This American tradition of leading campers unexpectedly into a wild goose chase on moonless nights has origins stretching back to the 1800s. But we're not talking about the prank rite of passage where you fool your friends by leaving them in the woods. We're talking about real bird hunting for real snipes.

Yes, a snipe is the actual name for an actual bird. Snipes are wading shorebirds. Chances are you've heard of sandpipers, which some people use to refer to snipes. Snipes are similar to a woodcock or a dowitcher. Don't worry. We're not going to leave you in the woods all alone. Now, we'll head into how you can go on an actual hunt for this real North American game bird. A day of snipe hunting is a great way to spend time with family and friends. You might have to do extra talking to convince them you're not leading them on a fool's errand because of the old joke stereotype, but these birds make for a good hunting challenge and excellent table fare. A snipe hunt is also a great way to introduce new and younger hunters to hunting and gun safety. Start planning a snipe hunt, and you'll start yet another excellent hunting tradition.

What is a Snipe?

Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) on a pole. This is a small, stocky wader native to the Old World

CreativeNature_nl via Getty Images

"Snipe" is an umbrella term for several different kinds of shore birds, but the two most common ones you'll likely encounter are the common snipe and Wilson's snipe. They look very similar to one another, and the former is generally considered a subspecies of the latter.

It's worth noting some state wildlife agencies make no distinction between the two kinds of snipe. Snipe hunters should probably check their state's regulations before they go hunting to make sure. You can find Wilson's snipes across North America. They tend to breed in the northern U.S. states and provinces of Canada. Some snipes are migratory birds that spend their winters in southern states like Florida, but others travel as far as Mexico or even Central and South America. The range of the common snipe is nearly identical. Both species tend to be found primarily on marshy or beachfront areas where they use their long bills to pick worms and insects out of the soil. Sometimes they can be found in fields, but you'll likely have more luck on the waterfront. Many confuse snipes with the American woodcock, but snipes have longer legs, necks, and bills. Woodcocks are also usually slightly larger than snipes.

How to Hunt Snipe

Wilson's Snipe (gallinago delicata) standing in a grassy wetland

Nancy Strohm via Getty Images

The hardest part of hunting snipes will probably be finding where they are. But hunting them is straightforward enough once you have their marsh or wetland habitat. Snipes are shy birds that spend most of their time on the ground foraging. Their brown and white coloration makes it easy for them to blend in with their natural environment.

All you need to do to hunt snipes is walk through their habitat and try to flush them, just like with pheasants. You don't need much in the way of equipment. Because snipes live in marshy, wet areas, you'll probably want a good pair of rubber boots. Most snipe enthusiasts also usually bring plenty of ammo. These are small birds, and they are fast and hard to hit. You're going to have some misses due to their erratic flight patterns. It might help to forget everything you know about upland birds or duck hunting before you hit the field in your first snipe season.

As for a gun, a 12 or 20-gauge with a No. 9 or No. 8 shot should do the job. Chances are you already own a gun like this, so you're halfway to your first hunt! If you're hunting snipes in a public area, pay attention to regulations on using lead shot. Hunters can snipe hunt with or without the aid of a dog. Your canine friend will likely come in handy in helping locate the tiny birds after they've fallen. Hunting snipes is an excellent way to help train your dog for hunting other bird species. If you don't have a dog, pay close attention to where the bird falls.

When Are Snipe Hunting Seasons?

Wilson's Snipe Shorebird Hides in the Grass at Edge of Malheur Pond

Jeff Huth via Getty Images

The hunting seasons for snipes vary wildly from state to state. Michigan, for example, starts on September 1 and runs through November 9. However, the snipe season tends to begin somewhat later in the south. In Georgia, the season starts November 15 and runs through February 8. In Texas, the season begins on October 27 and runs through February 10. In most state regulations I've checked, the daily bag limit is eight birds. Make sure to read your state's laws carefully. You often need a hunting license and a game bird stamp to hunt them.

This article was originally published on May 11, 2021.

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