While most of the main hunting attractions in Maine don’t come into season for a month or so, there are a few species available for harvest before the leaves turn color, quite possibly the least of which is the snipe.

Typically, when writing about this species I would make some comment about not using a flashlight and a burlap sack, but I’m afraid no one much younger than myself would understand the reference.

Do summer camps still conduct snipe hunts? Well, in case you’re wondering, snipe really do exist, and you really can hunt them, though few in these parts do.

Alewife bird, bog snipe, gutter snipe, jacksnipe, shad spirit or Wilson’s snipe are just some of the monikers attributed to the common snipe. Its scientific name Capella gallinago loosely translated means “a little goat-like hen,” likely a reference to the sound males make during the breeding season. My first experience came at the edge of a mosquito-infested muskeg pond in Alaska, where I stared up in the dim dawn sky trying to locate source of an eerie, hollow whistle. Years later I would be able to witness the same spectacle, not unlike the woodcock’s sky dance, over my own marsh in Maine.

Don’t fret if you missed last Friday’s opener. Compared to other species like early-season nuisance geese, snipe aren’t going to be hunted out in the first few days. No, the snipe aren’t even going to be pressured. Some folks will be hunting the aforementioned geese and some hunting bears up in the north woods, while others will be fishing or playing golf, awaiting cooler weather and more popular pursuits like upland gamebirds. Few if any will hunt the snipe.

According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2014 roughly 600 snipe hunters in Maine accounted for 3,600 hours afield, ultimately bagging 600 birds. That less-than-stellar success rate could account for why the number of hunters dropped to less than 50 in 2015, and accounted for an estimated zero snipe harvested, despite 100 hunter days afield.


That wasn’t always the case. In ‘Histories of North American Birds’, first published in 1927, Arthur Cleveland Bent remarked that “Probably more snipe have been killed by sportsmen than any other game bird.”

And market gunners took an even greater share in the late 19th century, especially on the species’ wintering grounds. Bent mentions one Louisiana gunner who killed 69,087 snipe over a 20-year period, or about 3,500 a year.

Just the same, if you want to chase these diminutive freshwater shorebirds, don’t dally. Though unspectacular when compared to waterfowl, the snipe’s southward migration does follow a similar path, from treeless tundra and stunted tiaga to southern swamps. And it typically coincides with the onset of early frosts. While some birds may linger into October, most are long gone by the time waterfowl season arrives.

It’s also worth noting that snipe hunting isn’t particularly exerting. A popular method is to “walk up” birds simply by strolling through wet meadows, soggy cow pastures or salt marshes, though a good bird dog is an asset both for flushing and locating downed birds. The list of equipment includes little more than knee-high waterproof boots, a light game vest, and a pocket full of shells and shotgun. Event better, snipe hunting is a sport for smaller guns like the .20-gauge and .28-gauge, which are quicker to the shoulder and better facilitate following the swift, erratic zig-zag flight of a snipe.

Better still, this is not a sport best practiced in the worst weather, like waterfowling – or at dawn and dusk – like deer hunting. You can sleep in and select the most pleasant days for a soggy stroll. And perhaps best of all, if you miss the migration you need only follow it south.

Snipe will go only as far as is necessary to find a consistent food source, which is often along the Gulf Coast where snipe hunting remains more popular, or Florida, where in 2014 hunters killed a whopping 44,300 snipe. Spend your mornings slogging the marsh and your afternoons with your toes in the water and … you know the rest.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.