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Marsh Musings

Hunting the odd things

POSTED October 6, 2017 2:16 p.m.
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Snipe season is open. Very few people hunt snipe. When we were kids, we tricked our friends (and others) into night-time snipe hunts with rituals, lights, and a fantastic opportunity to abandon gullible newbies in strange places. It only worked once per individual. Our fun ended when a city kid stepped off a steep edge of the creek in the dark and broke his collar bone. He happened to be my cousin and my father failed to see the humor in that situation. It is still a bit funny to me today and whatever punishment I received is no longer in my memory.
City kids always fell for everything and it was impossible to skip any opportunity to do things to them. I had several city cousins — and local cousins who colluded with me. I have lots of stories involving snakes, shotguns, pickup trucks, long hikes rabbit hunting and chewing tobacco. Not all of them are pretty.
Snipe are shore birds. There are about 25 species worldwide. We have Wilson’s snipe in Kansas. The season is from Sept. 1 to Dec. 16. Limit is 8 and possession is 24. They hang out in grassy shore areas with standing water. They are quick on the wing and hard to hit with my 410 shotgun. It is not easy to get a limit, and you get about a thimble full of meat off each bird — but they are excellent table fare.
There is lore about snipe hunting — English hunters wore tweeds and knickers and it was a very proper event in the day. It seems to be a “gentleman’s game” with smaller gauge weapons (a 28 gauge is very popular) and very traditional respect for each hunter and these birds. A good Labrador completes the visual of this hunt.
Snipe and Rails are the only shorebirds that can be legally hunted in Kansas. Rails are smaller than snipe and fly like a small chicken. It doesn’t seem possible that they can fly well enough to migrate. Sora and Virginia are most common. I was amazed to discover that the limit is 25. They live in deeper water and will fly short distances and disappear. My Labrador can’t smell these birds. When you shoot one, mark the spot carefully. When a snipe lands, you can walk to that spot and flush him. When a rail lands, you probably won’t see that bird again.
I only know one hunter who has taken a limit of 25 birds. He is a traditionalist, great shot, and he knows the history and tradition of this hunt. It is so very typical of him to occupy several “firsts” and to complete hunts with famous calibers of guns and in places and ways that honor the traditions and history of our ancestors. I have admired his thoughts and processes for many years and he makes me better in lots of ways.
Did you notice that I said my Labrador can’t smell these birds? I have seen Eider walk right by or over a rail. This is a dog that can find items I would hide under water and leave in place for a week just to try to trick him. He could find arrows in a wheat field months after I lost them. I would show him the bird and he would cheerfully pick it up — but he had to see it first. I don’t have a explanation for that — I wonder if anyone else has had that experience with their dog.
Woodcock are very similar to snipe. They live in a completely different habitat — damp woodlands mostly the eastern half of Kansas. I personally have never hunted Woodcock but am open to any invite that comes my way. It is also a very special and traditional event. Very few hunters pursue these birds. It seems that most of the guys I know that hunt them are game wardens that by job description have to understand and monitor these birds. The more you study and watch them, the more you respect them and the privilege of putting a very special meal together with a fine bottle of wine to celebrate. Traditional birds like this are very special to those of us who hunt. It is always a privilege.

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.

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