A young person asked me the other day about snipe hunting.
I snickered as my mind went back to when I was a young girl, and I remembered hearing of a young teenager who visited from the city and was taken out snipe hunting. I was curious about it. I later found out what it was, and decided then and there, I never wanted to go.
So, what exactly is a snipe?
A snipe is a bird with a long slender bill, similar to a sandpiper. Snipes are found in different areas of the world, from North America to Africa. In North America, they are called Wilson’s Snipes. The birds are usually found around wet marshy settings like swamps, wet meadows, and along rivers and ponds.
However, that long billed bird is not what is being hunted in the mountains of Appalachia, when people say they’re going snipe hunting.
Let me explain.
The real secret to snipe hunting is that it’s actually kind of a rite of passage, a practical joke or prank – a sort of fool’s errand.
Usually, a young teen, or someone who is unaware of what snipe hunting is, is invited to go out hunting for an imaginary creature sometimes described as a small furry animal, a fast-moving snake or yes, even a bird.
The “hunting” is done at night in the summer time. It has been a tradition since around the mid 1800s and is usually associated with summer camps, or boy scouts.
After dark, the unaware person gets led to remote area in the woods and is left there holding a pillow case or an empty bag. Some are told to make noises to attract the imaginary creature that has been described to them as a snipe.
Then the hunters friends, who are pulling the prank, will tell them they are going to go rush the snipe toward them. They all scatter in different directions, and all the oblivious person needs to do is to stay very alert and quickly catch the snipe in the pillowcase or bag they’re holding, as the snipe run through. They’re warned the snipe are very fast, to keep the person on edge while waiting.
Since the person will not know their surroundings well enough to make their way back home, they will sit there all night, duped, alone in the woods, in the dark, wide eyed, holding the bag, making silly noises and waiting to catch something that will never come through.
So, if anyone ever asks you to go snipe hunting, I warn you to take your sleeping bag and prepare to spend the night.