I think we have all been on one of those duck hunts that ends up more as just a nice day sitting in your blind with your buddies and little to no action in the decoy spread. I have spent countless days like this. Mostly because I hunt high-pressure public land and unless we get a new push of ducks or the weather is just right, we don’t get a chance at many birds. However, it is always better to be out enjoying the outdoors, regardless of the number of birds in the bag. Recently, I discovered a great way to break up a slow day of duck hunting with a hybrid waterfowl/upland hunt. Well, I should say my dog helped in my discovery. It just so happens that the same wetlands that are frequented by ducks are also inhabited by another small, but fun water-bound species, the Snipe.
Now, possibly like most of you, I was under the impression that a snipe was a mythical creature that people talked about jokingly when you were unsuccessful on any hunt. In my circle of friends, if you would have come back empty-handed, you would have heard, “Well, you must have been chasing snipe around all day.” Surprisingly, these little wading birds are quite common if you know where to look and they offer some great wing shooting.
These little critters can be found in the same marshes and wetlands that we all frequent while duck hunting every fall and winter. They usually hang around the edges, using their long bill to sift through the mud and shallow water, picking out little invertebrates. They tend to prefer relatively thick cover where they can have access to water to feed and dense shelter from predators. They can be found in groups or singles, but where you find one, you will usually find others.
I would recommend using a dog to have the best success with these birds. They are great work for pointing dogs because they usually hold very well and only flush when the dog is nearly on top of them or if you flush them yourself. I have a Brittany that loves to work on these birds. Honestly, he prefers them to ducks. A Mallard is almost too much to get his mouth around for a retrieve, so he is happy to break up the true waterfowl hunting with a few snipe points. Any brush crushing dog with a good nose would work great. I will say, it is a cool sight to have a dog on point in sometimes belly-deep water and flush a great flying and wild game bird.
Speaking of that, Snipe do offer some challenging shooting. Yes, they are a small target, but their erratic flight path makes it difficult to hit them even at a close flush. I have hunted Woodcock a few times and I feel like they have a similar style of flushing and flying. Snipes are just in much more open areas so if you are patient, you can usually get a clear shot.
I prefer to walk the uncut edges of levees or flooded crop fields. I find that these are the best areas for these little guys to hang out and usually have some good luck. I would add one word of caution to this, you must have your game recognition skills on point. I have run into several Kildeer in the same areas that I hunt snipe. Although the snipe are very real and legal to hunt, the Kildeer are definitely not on the list of game birds.
One helpful tip: A lot of times, the Kildeer make their telltale squealing noise when they are disturbed and take flight. However, this is not always the case and it is best, as always, to make certain of your target and do not shoot if you are unsure. Kildeer have a great deal of white on them, which is usually how I make my determination. However, this can be very difficult to recognize in fading light. If you have any concerns, do not shoot. If it is a Snipe, they usually do not fly far and there is a good chance you can get another chance at them.
If you do manage to get a handful of these critters out of the marsh and into the kitchen, they are a tasty way to end a day of sloshing around outside. I would say that they are most closely related to dove when it comes to preparation. They are a very thin-skinned bird and their feathers readily come off with relatively little effort. My favorite way to prepare them is whole with skin on and fried. They are also just the right size to make poppers. Whether you prepare them fried like me, or create your own recipe, you will not be disappointed. They are a great tasting bird. So, the next time you are on a slow duck hunt, take a lap around the levee or edges of a field and see if you can put some birds on the table, even if it isn’t necessarily the ones that you were after.