What Is Snipe Hunting?

What is snipe hunting?  Well, that question isn’t as simple as it might seem, as the term snipe hunt actually has more than one meaning that can muddy the waters somewhat when you’re looking for explanations.

In fact, the idiomatic meaning of the term “snipe hunt” is probably the most common one these days, and it’s among the top results if you search for the term on Google.

In this article, we’ll explain the different meanings and then give a little advice on how you can have a successful snipe hunt yourself.

The Different Meanings Of The Phrase “Snipe Hunt”

The first meaning of the phrase “snipe hunt” is a kind of prank.  That sounds odd, but here’s how it works.  Imagine a group of people are out in the wild somewhere, camping, hiking, or whatever.

Some of the group will choose another one in the group who they think is young or gullible enough for the prank to work.

Then they’ll tell them all kinds of shocking, strange stories about a vicious wild animal called a “snipe”.  The victim of the prank will then be given a bag and then left by themselves, often at night, with instructions to hunt and catch the terrible snipe.

Sooner or later, they’ll realize that there is no such thing as a snipe, and that their friends were pranking them.

In other variations on the theme, someone might be asked to buy striped paint or to ask the staff in a hardware store for a “long weight”.

This is also the origin of the idiom “snipe hunt”, meaning a fool’s errand, lost cause, or chasing something that can’t be caught.

However, there actually is a real animal called a snipe!  It’s not the monstrous creature from the prank, but actually a kind of bird.

They’re a game bird too, meaning that they’re hunted for sport, which is what we’ll talk about next.

What Is A Snipe?

There are 26 different species that are referred to as “snipes”, and they’re all fairly similar; wading birds that live in marshy areas with patchy vegetation to hide from predators.

They avoid areas with heavy vegetation cover. They’re recognizable by their long bills, eyes high up on their heads, and their plumage that allows them to camouflage themselves.

This camouflage can make them hard to spot, and is part of the reason that the bird’s name gives us the word “sniper”.  

Hunting Snipe

Snipe can sometimes be found by coincidence if you’re out hunting ducks, pheasants, or other game birds, but if you want to hunt snipe specifically, there are some things you should know. 

When Is The Best Time To Hunt Snipe?

In the US, the snipe season begins and ends at different times depending on which state you’re in.  In California, for example, snipe season begins in mid-October whereas in Georgia you’ll have to wait until mid-November.

These birds are migratory birds that are coming south from Canada and the Northern US for the winter, meaning that these are birds to be hunted during the winter months.  Make sure you wrap up warm!

What Is Snipe Hunting?

What Regulations Are There On Snipe Hunting?

As we mentioned above, snipe are migratory birds, which means the regulations around them are set by the federal government.

The daily bag limit is 8 which is uncommonly high for a game bird, meaning that you can potentially take a lot home with you if you shoot carefully.

Some states have different regulations on what kind of guns you may use to hunt snipe, so check your state’s policy.

How To Hunt Snipe

Hunting snipe will give you a different experience than with a lot of other game birds.  We mentioned before that they live in marshlands with only patchy plant coverage, so they won’t hide in trees or bushes if they feel threatened.

Instead, they’ll take off quickly and fly in an erratic pattern, making them hard to get a bead on.

While hunters often use dogs both to flush the birds and then collect the kills afterwards, this isn’t absolutely necessary when it comes to hunting snipe.

Snipe will flush easily without any canine assistance. A retriever will be able to help you find the downed birds when they’re on the ground, but if you track them as they fall, you’ll be able to get them yourself anyway.  If you do choose to take a dog, be very careful when shooting.  

Snipe often fly in erratic movements and change direction quickly, which sometimes takes them close to the ground, and therefore your dog.

Similarly, in some places, snipes are close to other types of bird that you’re not allowed to hunt, so make sure you know what you’re aiming at before you shoot.

However, snipe will sometimes return to near where they were flushed after a short while, so if you wait patiently and don’t spook them, you might get another chance to shoot one that’s flown away.  

A great tip for getting the perfect shot is to look at the snipe’s long beak – it will show you the direction that the bird is going to fly in next, giving you the lead you need to make the shot.

It’s a tricky shot to make, but that makes it great practice for other game birds.  Pheasants and ducks will seem much easier to hit after you’ve had a bit of practice shooting snipe.

What Is Snipe Hunting?

Snipe As Food

It’s only natural to want to eat what you hunt, and the good news is that snipe do indeed make delicious food. If you like duck, then you’ll likely enjoy the taste of snipe too.

They’re often fried whole in the pan, cooked with butter and bacon. The only downside is that they’re a little on the smaller side, so if you want to make a full meal, you might need a few of them.

Final Thoughts

This has been a brief introduction to the meanings of the term “snipe hunt” and to the sport of snipe hunting itself.

If you’re interested in getting started with snipe hunting and have never done it before, it’d be a good idea to link up with someone near you who knows the ropes.

It’s not an easy bird to hunt, but it is a rewarding one, and will set you up well for all kinds of other hunting.  Good luck, and enjoy!

George Alexander
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