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Snipe Season Opener approaches

10/04/15 -- 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 will be open statewide from Oct. 17, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. The daily bag limit is eight and the possession limit is triple the bag limit.

Pair of snipers, photo courtesy of CDFW
Pair of snipers, photo courtesy of CDFW

“Snipe hunting is a great pastime for hunters who are up for a challenge,” said Karen Fothergill, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (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.

Wilson’s snipe is a plump brown-and-buff migratory shorebird with short, stocky legs and a long bill. They can be found throughout the state, but are elusive and hard to spot when on the ground (thus the likely origin of the campfire game). 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. A light upland gun with an open choke is recommended, with #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.

“One thing that’s especially important to realize is that snipe keep company with many other shorebird species that are not legal game,” Fothergill noted. “Be able to quickly identify your target to ensure you’re not firing on a plover or other non-game species.”

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. Hunters who enjoy eating dove or duck will likely love the taste of snipe.

Although finding a snipe hunting guide at summer camp is easy, it might be tough for a new hunter to find one during the season without getting served a side dish of puns and jokes.

Please note that as of July 1, 2015, nonlead 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 nonlead ammunition page.

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