“Hey snipe! Yo snipe! Ha snipe! Here they come! They are heading right for you!” I remember the manic cries of my cabinmates as they frantically ran through the woods in the pitch black night. They had formed a semicircle around me, maybe 400 yards away. The team members were acting as drivers, yelling and beating the bush, tightening the circle to push the elusive snipe my way.
As the newest camper, I was given the honor of being the bagman. The catcher. I would be positioned well away from the group with a flashlight and a pillowcase with which to capture our prize. I swung the flashlight to and fro, trying to catch a glimpse of its beady eye. The drivers were coming closer and closer; I was sure I would be the victor. Then, just as suddenly, the voices began to fade; they were veering left, then right, and then inexplicably it sounded like they were falling back.
As the bagman, I had to stay silent so as not to alert the approaching bird. Awkward minutes passed. The old flashlight beam began to fade. In desperation, I yelled out to the team, breaking my vow of silence. After four hours, actually four minutes, I made the hard decision to return to camp and alert a senior counselor. Clearly the rest of the boys, not as aware of the woods as I, had succumbed to a bear attack, Bigfoot, or Florida Man. I burst breathlessly into the cabin only to find the rest of the boys eating s’mores and laughing hysterically. I had fallen victim to America’s rite of passage: The Snipe Hunt.
Hold on. Snipe are real! Snipe are a very diminutive and secretive bird. According to Wikipedia, snipe is a generic term for more than 20 species of migratory wading birds. They have brown bodies, slender legs, and the long dainty beak of a bird that eats worms and mollusks out of the tidal mud. Most people have never seen a snipe because, well, most people are not wading around in the tidal mud with the alligators.
It’s one thing to be duped at age 12 by your bunkmates at Camp Gitchi Gumie. But imagine if you will, a grown man spending big money to hunt this near-mythical, rarely seen creature. Yes, many states offer a “snipe hunting season” in the fall and winter. South Carolina’s season opens this year on Nov. 12 and closes Feb. 26.
Snipe hunting occurs in the margins of earthly hell between the duck hunters swamp and the men who follow dogs after grouse in the sheer mountainous alps. Take the worst parts of waterfowl and upland hunting, and that’s snipe hunting. Duck hunters love to be wet and cold, but they dress for the conditions in layers of fleece and neoprene. They think nothing of breaking ice to throw plastic ducks in a puddle and blow kazoos.
Grouse hunters buy expensive double guns and even more expensive dogs. They walk mile after straight-up-and-down mile in hopes of hearing a bird flush in the distance with no chance of a shot through the alder thicket.
A handle of bourbon at the end of the day makes both of those endeavors appear almost regal. Giving the game a chance. Fair chase. Adventure. It’s the kind of thing Harry might do if Meghan would let him.
Imagine therefore a man so in trouble at home and so bad at golf that he willingly goes on a snipe hunt. Pushing a small boat through the reedy marsh or trudging through the mud of the margins, this man will suffer immeasurable blood loss to no-see-ums and mosquitos. He will face dehydration and sunstroke. He may even drop a Purdy in the mud until it ain’t so purdy anymore. He will never fire a shot. If he did by some miracle hit his prize, he would have a brown worm-eating bird the size of a large robin.
I, for one, would rather stand in the middle of the woods with a pillowcase.