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Reality of snipe hunting rivals the myth

ByGeorge Little

Us country boys with sunburned necks, who fancied ourselves as crack shots and experienced woodsmen, were always on the lookout for a city kid to take on a snipe hunt.
We couldn’t wait to hand some greenhorn a gunnysack and fill him full of stories of birds that came when you whistled and walked right into the sack.

We’d laugh ourselves silly as we plotted setting him down on a snipe trail, sneaking off and letting him sit there until the cows came home and the hoot owls started to talk.

There was one major roadblock in the way of literally leaving someone holding the bag: Most of us lived some distance off the hard road. Unless a charter bus broke down in the barn lot, no city kid we weren’t related to was ever going to show up.

It probably didn’t matter. If a young urbanite had stumbled into our lair, somebody’s big sister would’ve spilled the beans before we got him outfitted for the hunt.

Even with our vast 14-year-old outdoor knowledge, none of us believed that snipes were real birds, or that there was a difference between going on a snipe hunt and actually hunting snipes.

Unless you’re a really good shot or really lucky at finding them, either experience can leave you holding an empty bag.

A snipe looks a little bit like a downsized woodcock. It’s colored differently, but has the same squatty body and long bill. Like the woodcock, it likes to hang around in wet areas where it’s easy to drill for worms. Snipes migrate in flocks. They fly at night and feed in wetlands and wet prairies at dawn and dusk.

Experienced snipe hunters go afield early and late in the day. The migrating flock disperses to feed. If you flush one snipe, chances are other members of the group are scattered out nearby.

Common snipe season in Illinois opened Sept. 11 and closes the day after Christmas. In order to go snipe hunting, you have to register with the Harvest Information Program (call 800-WETLAND). Your confirmation number must be written on your hunting license, but if you’ve already called in to hunt other migratory birds, you don’t have to do it again.

The daily limit is eight. How realistic it is for one hunter to reach the limit is debatable. I haven’t seen a total of eight snipes in my whole life. says that when you flush a snipe, it accelerates to 45 miles per hour in its first two seconds of flight.

“You get off the first shot pretty fast because of all the adrenaline, but you’ll probably miss,” says an article posted on the site. “Then you take another shot on the wild chance the bird might get careless and fly in front of the gun … All of this takes about 4 seconds if the bird is an especially slow one.”

In light of all this encouragement, I’m changing my focus from snipe hunting back to a snipe hunt.

I’m going to scout out a likely snipe trail, get myself a gunnysack, and wait for a city kid to come along.

George Little is an outdoors writer living in Springfield. Send letters to The State Journal-Register, P.O. Box 219, Springfield, IL 62705-0219 or email:

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