Editor Pete Carr looks at the methods, equipment and areas involved in the pursuit of this diminutive and elusive wader found in bog and marsh
The tiny snipe makes up for its lack in stature for the sport it always provides the roving gun whom choses to pursue it. Snipe specialists are few, and are mostly shot as interesting incidentals on more formal driven days, on both moor and lowground. Snipe can in fact be pursued fairly easily by interested fowlers and roving game shots who are willing to do a little homework and are prepared to travel for their sport.
Large numbers of snipe can be found in certain areas of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland and outlying islands. In some of these places snipe can be found in sufficient numbers to allow driving, and what fantastic sport they provide. This little wader can also be walked up, targeting the boggy areas, and preferably walking them into the wind (if it is light) so that any birds that do chose altitude as way of escape may be brought back over the guns by the breeze and provide some opportune driven shots. Walked-up over pointers is more formal but very enjoyable for those who enjoy the dog work too. The third method is flighting, which relies much on local knowledge and more than a dash of luck.
Snipe are found in wild exposed boggy areas and as such one must be prepared. Never set out alone, and always let someone know of your intend destination and duration of sporting activity. Sound warm and waterproof clothing that will give sufficient protection and sensible footwear are a given. Don’t forget even with driving these birds you will probably have to walk a fair mileage over infirm and challenging terrain.
Short drives are the order of the day with snipe. They cannot be pushed far before pitching back in. Strategic placement of stops who know how to work a flag are often the difference between success and failure. No one can be really certain the direction the birds will chose once flushed, but their habit of circling causes a fair percentage to go over the guns, often very high. In a wind, their direction will be easier to predict but nothing is ever certain. Indeed wind is most important, it is hopeless to try to drive snipe against a strong wind, as a great number will go away at right angles. The best chance is to drive snipe down-wind, which, if it is a good gale, blows them over the guns in a very enthusing manner.
Walking them into a light wind is superb fun as they twist and jig away, or alternatively rise like skylarks if the fancy takes them.
A regiment of beaters is not necessary for driving snipe, a handful of beaters who know their game marshaled by an experienced keeper will most often than not deliver the results.
Driven snipe may come very low and fast with all the associated jinks to begin with certainly, but their rapid flight soon takes a more direct course. That said, they can begin their jigs again for myriad reasons. However when the birds chose to go high the real acrobatics are displayed as they spiral into the sky and provide some of the most testing shooting one could wish for.
Often the shot must be taken from a sitting position, which of course only adds to the difficulties but that’s what makes it challenging. Make your position comfortable, secure and be sure of your safe arcs of fire and all will be well.
The state of the moon is of great importance to the snipe-driver, for if there is no moon the snipe will be busy feeding all day, and will, even after being disturbed, continually return during the course of the drive to their feeding grounds. Bur after a moonlight night, they are very wild, and if disturbed will fly great distances.
Interested in other articles by Pete? At the end of the season he heads to East Yorkshire to go driven game shooting: http://www.ishootmag.com/features/driven-game-features/last-day-of-the-season/