February 01, 2023
By Brenton Roberts
Fast, challenging, fun. Three words that describe snipe hunting perfectly. Whether you’re wanting to try your hand at wingshooting or you’re a seasoned veteran, these birds offer a great laidback hunting experience for all to enjoy. No need for endless gadgets, a truck bed full of decoys or a fancy shotgun. Throw on your blue jeans and a tee-shirt and enjoy the opportunity at what I like to call the “working man’s quail. " True, they are flavored more along the lines of dove or diver duck—but many of us find them delicious!
Look at a snipe. There’s a reason for that elongated, reedy beak. This allows them to pierce into the moist soil, like a hypodermic needle, digging out bugs, worms and any invertebrates they can get ahold of.
Find the soft, mucky soil, you’ll find the birds. Cow pastures are often a safe bet. Snipe prefer these open fields, since they can keep an eye out for approaching predators. Most importantly, the edges of flag ponds and “wet spots” throughout the field are prime feeding habitat for these birds. Remember, though, too much water and it’s too deep for these small birds; not enough water and the ground is too hard them to dig into. My theory is, as soon as you start hearing your boots suction to the soil, you’re in snipe country.
Speaking of boots, there are a few things that make life in the field a little easier when snipe hunting, a good pair of waterproof boots being one of them. I prefer the Lacrosse Alpha Agility 17” boot. A nice bird vest will hold your shells, birds and bottle of water. Your standard 12 or 20 gauge shotgun will work fine for these birds, but if you’re feeling sporty, drop down to a 28 or .410 gauge. As far as shells go, dove load in size 7 or 8 are perfect for snipe. Lead shot is allowed when hunting snipe, but only for snipe. I prefer to shoot steel, as chances at coming across a group of teal or mottled ducks are possible.
Walking around these wet areas makes enough noise to flush snipe out. You’ll know it when they do, as they zig and zag erratically on their escape. You will also hear a distinct mreenk sound. If you come up on a wet spot and see birds on the shore, it is highly unlikely that they are snipe, most likely killdeer or sandpipers; do not shoot these! In over a decade of snipe hunting, I have yet to see a bird on the ground. They are extremely well-camouflaged. Also, if you flush a bird which moves slowly and noiselessly, hold your shot. Meadowlarks, ground doves and other birds share this habitat. Spend time learning to safely differentiate targets on the wing. Never get in a rush.
When you shoot a snipe, keep your eyes on where it landed and walk straight to it. The natural colors of a snipe make them tricky to find in the grass. Also, if you flush a group (technically, a "wisp" of snipe) and don’t knock one down, keep an eye on where they fly. Occasionally snipe loop around and give another shot on the wing, or at least reveal their location when they land, allowing another opportunity.
Snipe season runs November 1 through February 15, with a daily bag limit of 8 birds. Remember to check your local WMA brochure if hunting public land, as these dates may not apply; commonly, WMA managers open snipe hunting during “small game” seasons which come after whitetail seasons. A few WMAs allow season-round snipe hunting. Since snipe are migratory birds, a migratory bird permit is required in addition to your regular hunting license. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine January 2022