Snipe is my personal favorite bird to hunt.
Mine as well...
The Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago
) is a cousin of the Woodcock. Common Snipe are also called "Wilson's Snipe" and sometimes called "Jack Snipe", although the real Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus
) is only found in Asia and Europe.
Woodcock are found in thickets along streams, whereas Snipe will be found in open prairies and marshes.
Snipe are excellent eating, tasting halfway between dove and teal. They are by far the most challenging or all game birds to hunt. Shooting box of shells to bag 2 or 3 snipe is about the national average.
Back in the 1800's in Europe, a hunter who was good enough to do well on shooting snipe was given the honor of being called a "Sniper". That is the origin of the name Sniper that refers to the extremely skilled long range shooters in the military.
Snipe hunting in America is slowly returning to the great sport it was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It was known as a “Gentleman’s Sport” because the average person couldn’t justify the cost of shotgun shells vs. the amount of meat that the hunt produced.
There was a ready commercial market for snipe and the few market hunters who were good enough shots to hit them consistently, got a buck a dozen for them wholesale, and more if they sold them direct to fine restaurants. This was during a time when a good horse could be purchased for $10.
However, market hunting was outlawed in the early 1900’s, and then habitat destruction along with a prolonged drought in the 1930’s lead to closing the season on snipe and other shorebirds.
In 1953 the snipe season was reopened, but it was slow to catch on with new hunters who had never experienced the sport, and the old “Snipe Hunt Joke” kept new hunters from taking the sport seriously.
If the habitat gets either too dry or two wet, the birds often leave, only to quickly return when the conditions change to suit them.
The best size shot for snipe is #8 lead or #6 steel. Improved cylinder choke offers the best chance at nailing one at decent range. Often they will flush at long range, but if you just keep walking, you find some that hold for a closer flush. Any gauge shotgun will work, but light, fast swinging 20 and 28 gauge shotguns are favored by many.
Snipe flush like a quail and may fly fairly straight at first, but often they stay low and are very hard to see at first. Then they will start making acrobatic maneuvers that usually result in your missing them by embarrassing margins.
The best tactic is to only take the closer shots and when you down one, walk directly to the spot and start looking for it as they are very hard to find in cover because of their excellent camo. Don't fall to the temptation of shooting at other snipe that flush while you are walking to the downed bird because you will probably lose that one and any other one you may hit.
Snipe would be nearly impossible to hunt if it weren't for the fact that they usually make a loud rasping sound when they flush. You seldom actually see one flush, but rather you hear the distinctive sound, similar to a boot pulling free from the mud, and then if you can quickly locate the bird you might get a shot off before it gets out of range.
This photo shows what a typical snipe feeding area looks like...
You will also find snipe in heavier cover as well as in totally bare areas. The key you want to look for is damp to wet ground with at least some exposed mud. Some of the best snipe hunting I've seen was where feral hogs had rooted up some areas in a mowed pasture and then after a rain, they were thick in there for days until it dried up.
Other areas that can turn red hot occur after mowing or burns. Anything that removes heavy cover and lets snipe get down to wet ground opens up new feeding areas for them.
It's easy to find evidence of snipe feeding areas. Just look at exposed muddy areas and if snipe have been there, you will see hundreds of little holes in the mud where snipe have used their long beaks to probe for worms.
Snipe will be found mostly as singles on the ground. If you jump two or three, they probably were just feeding close together. However, snipe will sometimes fly from spot to spot in small flocks of 3 to 8 or so, and migrating flocks may be made up of 20-30 birds.