The Snipe

THE SNIPE, from the Shooter’s Guide by B. Thomas – 1811

AFTER having given a particular description of the woodcock, it will only. be necessary to observe, that the plumage and shape of the snipe is much the same ; and indeed its habits and manners sets bear a great analogy. But there are three different sizes of snipes, the largest of which, however, is much smaller than the woodcock. The common snipe, weighs about four ounces, the jack snipe. is not much. bigger than a lark; the large snipe weighs about nine ounces, but is seldom met with.  Some have supposed that the common snipe is the jack’s female ; however, the contrary is now too well known to need a refutation in this place.

Snipes are to be found all the winter in wet and marshy grounds, particularly where there are rushes; they are frequently to be found on mountains and moors among the heath, but a severe frost forces them to the springs and running streams. Numbers of these birds remain with us all the year, and breed in our marshes, laying generally six eggs the latter and of May. In saying this, I wish to be understood as meaning the  common snipe; for I am of opinion the jack snipe, like the woodcock, goes to a more northern latitude to breed, though he is sometimes seen here in the summer, which may arise from similar causes to those which induced the occasional stay of the woodcock, mentioned in the preceding chapter. But numbers of the common snipe are found to stay and breed from choice, though by far the greater migrate for this purpose.

The snipe is generally regarded as a difficult shot; and it must be allowed that it requires practice to surmount this difficulty, which arises from the zig-zag manner in which the bird flies immediately after rising. The best method to pursue in this diversion is to walk down the wind, as snipes generally fly against it; and if a snipe rise before the sportsman, it will not fly far before it turns, and describes a sort of semi-circle, which will afford more time to take aim, by thus remaining longer within gun-shot. If, however, the bird should-fly straight-forward, it will be highly proper to let it get some little distance, as its flight will become much steadier. The slightest wound is sufficient to bring these birds to the ground; and indeed I once fired at a snipe, which fell; and, on picking it up, I could not observe a feather discomposed, nor any wound about it :— I plucked it, and not the slightest mark of violence appeared. I am induced to suppose that a pellet of shot slantingly struck its bill.

An old pointer is the best in snipe shooting. To accustom a young dog to snipes, slacks his mettle, and renders him of little use for partridge or grous, owing to getting a number of points with little exertion. However, when these birds are plentiful, a dog is unnecessary, as walking them up will answer equally well. But, at all events, a dog used for grous shooting should never be taken to set snipes, as it will not only injure him, but cause disappointment to the sportsman,  as these birds are sometimes found on the moors in the grousing season; and a shooter would be mortified (especially when rather fatigued) to walk a considerable distance up to a steady set, expecting grous, and a snipe rise before him.

Numbers of snipes, in the course of the winter, are killed by a very fierce little hawk, called the Merlin, which is a bird of passage, and visits this country in winter only: it has a beautiful plumage of dusky blue on the back, and inclining to yellow on the breast and belly : it is the smallest hawk I believe to be seen in this island, and would weigh little or no more than the common snipe. The country people also, who reside where these birds are plentiful, take abundance of them by means of a sort of snare, called in some parts a pantle.

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It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

— Adam Smith