“What in the world was that?” John Benjamin asked as he watched a small bird flush in front of him as we tromped through the marsh while hunting teal several years ago. “It looked like a small woodcock only faster,” he said.
When I told him it was a snipe, he just laughed and said, “Yeah, right.” A normal reaction for anyone who had ever been on a practical joke snipe hunt.
However, there are real birds called snipe and hunters who pursue them know how good they are on the table as well as a challenge with a gun.
These fast-flying migrants can fool hunters who know their zigzag flight is comparable to a darting dove.
My son David knew what snipes are since he has hunted them, so when a question on an Iowa Basic test asked if a snipe was (a) a real bird, (b) an imaginary bird or (c) a piece of cloth, he marked (a) but it was graded as wrong. He sent a copy of a photo I had taken of him holding a snipe and the question was dropped from the test.
Many people when asked to go on a snipe hunt have visions of being left holding the bag, so it’s no wonder they think there is no such bird as a snipe.
A friend of mine called to tell me he had some snipe he had flushed every day by a small creek on his property. He knew I liked to hunt these migrants and since the season opened Sunday, Sept. 1, I grabbed my .28-gauge and headed out to his farm.
After a recent rain there was sheet water in the field and the snipe were feeding on the worms they were able to reach with their long bills.
It took several shots before I was able to drop a bird, but after hunting dove, I was ready for their erratic flight.
Since the field was within several hundred yards of a highway, several cars stopped to watch thinking I was shooting ducks. One man shouted at me saying, “Don't you know the duck season isn't open?”
Snipe migrate through the state each spring and fall, but most waterfowl hunters pass them up and are missing some good hunting as well as excellent eating. This small brown bird is great table fare. Bob Andrews once told me that after he tried his first snipe he couldn't get enough.
“I had no idea they were so good and for years I passed up shooting them,” Andrews said.
Although snipe hunting isn't as popular as it was years ago, it remains a challenge for the hunters who use guns and not sacks to take their birds.
The season on snipe in Missouri runs through Monday, Dec. 16, with a daily limit of eight birds.
As we waded through the marsh, we also flushed several rails, another small migratory bird, but much different from the snipes. Rails, when flushed, only fly a short distance and much slower than snipe. Often a hunter will shoot too late to get a rail. The rail limit is 25 and it takes as many to make a good meal. The rail season opened Sunday, Sept. 1, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 9.
Most hunters only hunt rails once because most of the time they are fighting mosquitos and the heat of early September while wading in knee-deep water full of heavy weeds.
On that day our teal hunt didn't produce a teal, but we managed to bag six snipe and 14 rails.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.