Here is everything you need to know about snipe hunting.
Want to go on a snipe hunt? If you're from the United States, you've likely been a victim of this practical joke at some point when you were younger. This American tradition of leading campers unexpectedly into a wild goose chase on moonless nights has origins stretching all the way 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 snipe.
Yes, a snipe is an actual bird. It's a type of wading shore bird. Chances are you've heard of a sandpiper, which some people use to refer to a snipe. They're 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 really can go on an actual hunt for this real North American game bird.
What is a snipe?
Snipe is something of 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. Snipe hunters should probably check their state's regulations before they go hunting to make sure.
Wilson's snipe can be found 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 mostly in 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 people 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
The hardest part of hunting snipe is probably going to be finding where they are. But once you have their marsh or wetland habitat located, hunting them is straight forward enough.
Snipe 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.
Basically, all you need to do to hunt them is walk through their habitat and try to flush them, just like with pheasants. You don't need much in way of equipment. Because snipe live in marshy and wet areas, you'll probably want a good pair of rubber boots. Most snipe enthusiasts also agree you should 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 just forget everything you know about upland bird or duck hunting before you hit the field in your first snipe season.
As for a gun, a 12 or 20 gauge with 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 already!
If you're hunting snipe in a public area, pay attention to regulations on the use of lead shot.
Snipe hunting can be done 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. Just watch any snipe hunting video to see what I mean. Hunting snipe is a good way to help train your dog for hunting other species of bird.
If you don't have a dog, make sure you pay close attention to where the bird falls.
Snipe hunting seasons
The seasons for snipe vary wildly from state to state. Michigan, for example, starts on September 1 and runs through November 9. However, in the south, the season tends to start somewhat later. In Georgia, the season starts November 15 and runs through February 8. In Texas, the season starts October 27 and runs through February 10.
In most of the states regulations I've checked, the daily bag limit is eight birds. Make sure to carefully read your state's regulations. Often you need not just a hunting license, but a game bird stamp as well to hunt them.
Bring your family and friends
A day of snipe hunting is a great way to spend time with family and friends. You might have to do some 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 the basics of hunting and gun safety. Start making plans for a snipe hunt, and you'll be starting yet another great hunting tradition.