The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) notes if you always thought snipe hunting was just a rite-of-passage prank for adolescents around the campfire, you may be surprised to learn that there is a real hunting season coming up for this tasty game bird!
The general hunting season for snipe in California runs Oct. 17, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. The daily bag limit is eight and the possession limit is triple the bag limit, according to the CDFW.
“Snipe hunting is a great pastime for hunters who are up for a challenge,” said Karen Fothergill, a senior environmental scientist with CDFW Upland Game Program. “They are easily the state’s most overlooked game bird, in part because they’re extremely difficult to hunt. Being successful requires knowledge of their habitat and quick identification followed up with a fast and accurate shot.”
In fact, the word “sniper” originally meant a hunter that was skilled at shooting the notoriously wily bird, according to the CDFW.
Wilson’s snipe is a plump brown-and-buff migratory shorebird with short, stocky legs and a long bill. They can be found throughout California, but are elusive and hard to spot when on the ground (thus the likely origin of the campfire game). The CDFW notes snipe are ground-foraging birds, frequently found probing muddy grounds for earthworms and invertebrates. They fly in a fast zig-zag pattern and in the spring they make a distinctive whistling sound (called “winnowing”) with their tails.
Snipe are most frequently found along the muddy edges of ponds, damp fields and other wet, open habitats. Areas with low vegetation provide adequate camouflage and cover for snipe, but they can often be spotted by glassing the water’s edge with binoculars. Because of their habitat, waterfowl hunters are most likely to encounter snipe in the field and may find the bird to be a nice addition to their daily take.
In marshy bogs or wet meadows, hunters can use a pointing dog to stalk snipe, or can use the walk-up or pass shooting methods. The CDFW notes a light upland gun with an open choke is recommended, with No. 7 shot. Snipe tend to flush into the wind, so hunters may have more luck if they walk with the wind at their back. Though they are flocking birds, snipe tend to flush as singles or pairs. They almost never fly in a straight line, making excellent hand-eye coordination a must for a successful hunt.
While snipe have a wide wingspan, they are smaller than quail and it may take several to make a single meal. They are often roasted whole or breasted out and cooked with butter or bacon. The CDFW notes hunters who enjoy eating dove or duck will likely love the taste of snipe.
The CDFW notes that as of July 1, 2015, non-lead ammunition is required when hunting upland game birds on all state wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW non-lead ammunition page.
(Top Photo of Wilson’s Snipe courtesy sdakotabirds.com)