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No joke: Snipe hunting in Arkansas

Posted: January 18, 2014 - 11:38am
JOE MOSBY PHOTO   Snipe blend into their surroundings but are distinguished by their long, slender beaks.
JOE MOSBY PHOTO Snipe blend into their surroundings but are distinguished by their long, slender beaks.

There is still time to get in a snipe hunt this season. Make it several snipe hunts if you want.

Yes, snipe hunting in Arkansas. You need a shotgun, not a dupe and a sack.

Snipe season runs through Saturday, Feb. 15, with a daily limit of eight and a possession limit of 16.

All right, snipe are birds. They are marsh birds in the terms of wildlife managers. They are challenging to hunters, maybe more than to the butts of hoaxes that have been with us for a century, perhaps longer.

Our language has been impacted by the snipe hunting of jokes or pranks. “Left holding the bag” is commonly used in many situations. Actual or real snipe hunting has given us the term “sniper” or “sniping,” meaning sharpshooting at a difficult target.

The joke or prank is to find a gullible person, lay much preparation about the wonders of hunting snipe then take that person out to a remote area at night, give him or her a large sack or bag and tell that person, “You wait here with the bag open, and we’ll chase the snipe to you.” The unsuspecting person waits and waits and waits.

Jokes and hoaxes aside, snipe are mostly brownish birds that migrate to Arkansas in colder times of the year. They are about the size of a bobwhite quail, maybe a tad smaller, and their distinguishing feature is a long, slender beak.

That long beak is made for probing into wet soil for worms and other food. Snipe spend the breeding portion of the year in the wetlands of Canada and the northern United States, then migrate to the South in fall and winter. Populations of snipe declined decades ago but have rebounded and appear stable at present.

The birds are hunted with shotguns using loads similar to those for quail and dove. Snipe are hard to find, partly because of their coloration, which blends well with the marshy terrain they use. In Arkansas this time of the year, snipe may turn up near flooded bottomlands, close to lakes, rivers and streams or in drained rice fields.

Hunters find them by walking up on small groups of snipe. Some hunters use dogs for locating and pointing the birds. Some also are taken by pass shooting — gunning at birds flying by.

Snipe habitually fly low to the ground, often for short distances. Flush some snipe, and they will fly just two to four feet off the ground then land a hundred or so yards away.

Most Arkansas snipe hunters wear knee boots or hip boots. They may carry bags, too, but these are only for taking out the birds they down.

Southern Louisiana is an area of considerable snipe hunting. A Cajun told this writer, “Snipe on the dinner table are like dark meat quail.” He meant they are tasty to eat — depending on the cook preparing them.

And the fun-loving Cajuns have a snipe tradition different from the bag-holding prank.

A Cajun may tell an outsider, especially a Texan, who has killed some snipe, “Hey, you aren’t going to take those ugly, nasty things home, are you? Why, your wife will run you out of the house. Better not take those snipe home. Just give them to me, and I’ll dispose of them for you, and nobody will ever know what you have done.”

Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosby@cyberback.com.

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