photo of Wilson's snipe using long bill to feed in mud
Statewide

How to snipe hunt in Oregon

The small Wilson’s snipe presents a big challenge for bird hunters
Meghan Dugan & Stuart Love
December 15, 2020

Snipe fly fast and erratically. They aren’t hard to kill, just hard to hit. Here are a few tips to improve your odds.

Stalking Wilson’s snipe is a cross between waterfowl and upland bird hunting. They live in shallow wetlands on the edges of duck habitat, but they hold and flush more like a pheasant or chukar

With a season that lasts through late January in Zone 2 and late February in Zone 1 and the formidable shooting challenge they present, a couple of late season snipe hunts can be a fine way to end the bird hunting season.

Stuart Love, ODFW wildlife biologist and waterfowl hunter, offers these tips for hunting snipe in Oregon.

Find snipe from eastern Oregon to coastal bays

Wilson’s snipe are migratory birds. While some of them do nest in Oregon, most tend to arrive late in the fall migration. They winter in the wetlands of eastern Oregon, the agricultural fields of the Willamette Valley and portions of Oregon coastal bays where vegetation is flooded by tide. 

A few specific areas with good numbers of wintering snipe:

Most years, the number of snipe in Oregon’s southwestern coastal counties increases noticeably in January and February. Snipe can offer the last bird hunting opportunity of the season, and hunting can be quite good. To find good places near you contact your local district wildlife biologist for information.

Look for snipe in shallow wetlands or flooded fields

Look for snipe in wetlands where rain water softens the soil or shallowly floods grassy areas. 

Some hunters say if your ankles are wet, you are hunting in water too deep for snipe. While that may be an exaggeration, snipe do like moist soil with only shallow standing water on it. In this environment, snipe will use their long flexible bill to pick earthworms and other invertebrates from the mud. 

If you don’t live near a shallow wetland habitat, try hunting snipe in places like clear-cuts and meadows when fall and winter rain create puddles. Migratory snipe will often stop in places like this to feed in the wet soil before moving on to their more traditional habitat.

photo showing three harvested snipe with shotgun
Select a small, light shotgun for snipe hunting.

Select a light shotgun and non-toxic shells

Non-toxic shot is required for hunting snipe as it is with waterfowl hunting. Because snipe is a small bird, use smaller shot than what you would use for duck hunting. If you’re using steel shot, size 6 shot or smaller is ideal. 

Any shotgun will work but many hunters prefer a light handling, quick gun like a 20 gauge upland bird gun. Be cautious of using tightly choked shotguns with non-toxic shot as -- the shot can damage the barrels of these guns. An improved cylinder choke is ideal for snipe, which are often shot at close range.

Make sure you know it’s a snipe

The first challenge facing new snipe hunters is learning how to identify them in the field. There are other shorebirds that look similar to snipe and live in similar habitat. However, there are some key characteristics you can use positively identify them.

  • Snipe will almost always flush alone or maybe with one other bird, even though you might find several snipe in the same small patch of habitat.
  • Snipe make a distinctive call immediately upon flushing. It sounds like they are saying skype or escape in a very scratchy voice. 

The birds most likely to be confused with snipe are dowitchers. Dowitcher are almost always in flocks of several birds and they fly in unison.  Dowitchers also are more likely to flush without a call and when they do call, they sound more like other shorebirds, not like a snipe. 

photo of a snipe hunter with his dog
Snipe is a good target for training young bird dogs.

Give your dog a workout

Snipe hunting offers a late season opportunity to work your dog through habitat in much the same way you would hunt quail or pheasants. Snipe put out a good amount of scent for dogs to follow, and they hold well before flushing at your feet.

Snipe can be ideal birds to train young bird dogs on since snipe don’t run much after landing. This lets you mark where a flushed bird lands, and then work your dog to that mark. The bird is likely to be sitting very close to where it landed. 

 

How snipe gave its name to “sniper”

The term sniper, which is used in military terms to describe a soldier who is trained in long-distance, extremely precise shooting, has its roots in European hunters who specialized in shooting snipe for markets.

One snipe variety or another occurs in most places across the globe, and they are hunted in many of those places. Some varieties are fairly good-size. The giant snipe of South America can be the size of big teal. Others, like the Wilson’s, are small – more like a small quail. 

Cook snipe hot and fast

On the table, snipe can be quite tasty when cooked properly. As with most migratory birds, they have dark breast meat and lighter leg meat. The dark meat can have a stronger flavor than upland birds, and should be cooked hot and fast. Medium is fine but rare is better. Slow cooking tends to dry out the meat and accentuate the strong flavors. Some hunters make a great popper by wrapping a snipe’s breast meat, along with a chili pepper, in bacon and cooking it over a hot BBQ.

The Wilson’s snipe bag limit is 8 birds, 2 limits in possession.

Check the Wilson’s snipe hunting zone map here.

  • Zone 1 open through Feb. 21, 2021
  • Zone 2 open through Jan. 24, 2021

Meghan Dugan is the ODFW PIO for southwest Oregon and the Marine Resources Program. Stuart Love is the ODFW district wildlife biologist in Charleston.

Photos by Dave Budeau.

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