The morning started as a pheasant hunt quickly gone awry. I’d missed a rooster and watched others flush wild. I was not pleased with my performance.
Suddenly, a small bird erupted from the marsh grass in front of me. Snipe! I swung on the left to right crosser and, to my surprise, hit it.
Phantom was sent for the retrieve, and she happily obliged, glad to finally get her mouth on some feathers after the fiasco of a morning we’d been having.
I haven’t shot a lot of snipe over the years. In fact, this was Phantom’s first. The last snipe I’d shot was back in the Trigger era.
That was another dreary, luckless day. I was glad to get the snipe to save the hunt. Trigger, however, was less than enthusiastic. Although he found it, he refused to pick it up. It was a rare act of retriever defiance, but apparently to his nose the snipe smelled repulsive. He was a duck and pheasant dog, after all. Snipe were beneath him.
Not so for Phantom. Being an all-around, undiscriminating huntress, she eagerly grabbed the bird. If it has feathers or fur, it’s fair game.
The common snipe is a small, stocky, migratory shorebird that breeds in northern Canada. Some winter in Nebraska, but most merely pass through on their way south each fall. Snipe have a long bill for probing into mud for food, and bold brown and tan striping on their heads and back that provides effective camouflage. They are approximately between a dove and quail in size.
Peak migration is mid-September through October, but there were certainly plenty of snipe in the marsh on that mid-November day last year. Even so, I only hit one and missed several others, but that may have been a good thing.
Although comparable to doves or quail in size, snipe aren’t comparable in taste. However, if I shoot it, I eat it, so I ate the snipe and was thankful for my misses.
It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with snipe. On one hand, they’re underrated as a sporting game bird. Their small size makes them challenging targets. They flush fast and flit about in an erratic flight pattern, making them difficult to hit.
Likewise, they’re sometimes underrated by uppity bird dogs who think they’re too good to pick them up. However, snipe can save an otherwise unproductive hunt. I was proud of Phantom for appreciating their sporting value.
On the table, though, snipe are greatly overrated. They’re about one small step above a coot in my opinion. Still, I’ll probably shoot another snipe again someday, and gag it down afterwards.
Nebraska’s snipe season runs from September 1 through December 16. A HIP (Harvest Information Program) number is required to hunt them, since they are migratory birds.
The daily bag limit is eight, for those who are interested, but I’ll likely never shoot a limit. One or two snipe at a time every decade or so are enough for me!
Jarrod Spilger writes an outdoor column for The Independent.