HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
It is a well-known fact dove hunting can be a real challenge, but there is one bird that is tougher to hunt – or, rather, to hit – than a dove. We are speaking about Wilson snipes.
A slimmed-down version of a woodcock, 10 to 12 inches high, snipes have a long, flexible bill and mottled brown feathers that blend perfectly into marsh grasses. You rarely see one until it is almost stepped on or accidentally flushed.
A flock of snipe is called a wisp and are noted for their erratic, swift and low flight. Because of those flight characteristics and refusal to fly straight, snipe teach good shooting skills better than any other bird.
Snipe hunting doesn’t have all the social niceties of upland bird hunting, because snipes prefer wet grassy fields, pastures, mudflats, coastal lagoons, salt marshes, and other marshy wetland areas. When preparing to hunt snipes, rubber boots are a must, and use an open-choked upland gun. Light loads such as No. 8 lead (where legal) or compatible steel shot are recommended. Also, bring lots of ammunition. A box would be a minimum; two is better. Dogs are optional because snipes flush easily on their own and rarely sit well for pointing dogs, but a dog can help in finding downed birds. Dead birds can be hard to find because they blend into the ground.
Phillip Bourjally, outdoors writer for Field and Stream, said in his article “How to Hunt Snipe with a Shotgun” (September 2009), “the snipe’s erratic flight demands good shooting fundamentals. After flushing, snipe climb, fly a long way, and often circle back to the spot where they were jumped. Hunters should stay put and wait patiently, because snipe may give you an overhead or high crossing shot. Also, the snipe’s long beak may serve as a convenient indicator of the direction they are flying and the necessary lead you need to make a shot.”
Bourjally said hunters should lock their eyes on the bird when it flushes. Move the muzzle towards the snipe while at the same time bring the stock up to your face and if you look hard at the bird and don’t try to consciously aim the shot, your hands will automatically adjust the gun to follow the bird’s gyrations. Trust your eye-hand coordination and shoot the instant the butt hits your shoulder. Riding a bird after the gun is mounted to make sure of the shot only increases the chances the snipe will juke out of the way. This shooting technique will serve you in excellent stead no matter what species of flushing game you pursue. If you can hit a snipe, pheasants and quail are easy.