A Perfect Hunting Season?

By Skip Hutchison




Can there really be a "perfect" hunting season? Probably not, but when put into a realistic perspective the 2006-2007 hunting season was about as close to perfect as one could possibly get for me. There was some tough hunting and there was some not so tough hunting. That was based on weather and water levels. Many days I saw fewer birds than I had in the two previous seasons, yet if I was keeping a tally of the number of birds brought to bag it would not indicate that. Because it was one of my most enjoyable years I thought I would take a couple of moments and reflect on it.

Opening day found me out in one of my favorite areas. I hadn't been there since the previous season ended nine months prior and I was curious as to whether or not the water level would be conducive to good hunting. In my hands was a new four-ten. I had only shot one box of shells through the gun with a handful used for patterning and the rest at clays I launched for myself with a Trius trap. Based on my ability to hit those clays I felt like the tiny gun with its diminutive payload would be adequate for me to scratch out a bird or two, provided I could find some that would hold well and not flush at twenty-five yards or more. The little gun is just over 5 1/4 pounds. While that might not be ideal for target shooting, it is fairly easy to keep even a gun of such light weight moving on a crossing shot at close range. As fast as the barrels have to move to catch up to a snipe traveling at up to sixty miles per hour it isn't terribly difficult to keep from checking the swing at the moment the trigger is pulled.

Also part of my opening day repertoire was a new cartridge bag I fashioned from an english saddle bag. I wanted something that would hold a box or so of the small cartridges and the smallest commercially made bags will hold fifty or more twelve gauge cartridges. That equates to a few more four-ten sized shells than I will ever need to carry. Since I plan to use the bag for hunting, not war, I knew I had to make or modify my own. I made a bird strap that clips onto the bag to carry my birds while allowing them to cool. So, armed with all new gear I made my way out to the field.

Even though it was technically fall I don't think on any of my opening hunts in November that the temperature has been less than seventy degrees. It might be at sunrise but not once the sun has been up for a couple of hours. Carrying a little gun made it less tiring than it could have been. When the birds started falling I believe I stopped noticing the heat. I hunted three days that first week and by the end of that week I felt quite comfortable with and had confidence in the new gun. I would end up carrying it five days during the first month but as the birds became warrier it had to be replaced by something a bit more efficient.

When December arrived I had already upsized to the twenty-eight gauge. It is the gauge I choose most for snipe and I will use it as long as I think I can. During most seasons I rotate between the twenty and twenty-eight gauge guns depending on water and cover conditions, which have an impact on how numerous and how wild the birds are. The water was very low where I hunted most of the days in November. Normally that is what I want but I didn't think I was seeing enough birds that I would have consistent shooting there all season. I scouted other places and found most of the conditions at those marshes less than ideal. One such place was a favorite spot nearly twenty years ago but I haven't hunted there many times since then. It might end up being very good for the upcoming season but I saw few birds and I didn't think the cover was as dense as it needs to be for good shooting even if birds were more plentiful.

During the last two weeks of December we had a couple of strong winter storms, each dumping several inches of rain. They raised the water level and pushed the shoreline up as much as fifty yards or more on some of the mud flats I was hunting. A couple of the flats were much smaller and some were completely under water. Still, I searched other areas that were previously too high and continued to find birds. I never found large numbers but always enough that I was able to get in some shooting.

    

Finally it was starting to feel a little bit more like winter. That helped keep me from overheating so soon. While it made being out there more comfortable, because the water had risen and pushed back into the grass so far the conditions were far from ideal for snipe. The most unusual thing for me was the day I didn't fire a shot. It has been well over a decade and closer to two since that happened, but to have it happen in the middle of the season when I would end up shooting more birds than in any other season made it most unusual. When the water stopped rising and started to recede slightly a few birds returned and I was able to once again collect a few.

    

With the arrival of January came drier weather. There was too much water for the habitat to be considered anywhere near ideal, but if we didn't get more rain before some of what was standing soaked in I felt like I would continue to see birds. Each day I went out was a challenge with birds moving from one area to another more frequently than they do when water levels are stable. The challenge of having to scout each week and still be able to successfully locate a bird or two only added to my enjoyment. One Saturday toward the end of the month we got another rain. It wasn't enough to add much water but it made me bring out the "rainy day" gun. For the last few weeks remaining in the season I would continue to use that gun.

Having two weeks to hunt in February I was preparing for an end of the season snipe rally with a friend or two. That meant I was scouting for other people that would be shooting. I shot at the snipe rally the previous season but since I was hosting for a friend or two this year I was planning on letting them do the shooting. On one of these scouting trips I took my wife. She had not been in a pair of waders in nearly twenty years. Thanks to cooler weather it ended up being an enjoyable day for her. Just having her along made it the highlight of my season. We didn't stay out as long or walk as far as I typically do but when we headed for home there was a handful of snipe hanging from the strap. The 10th of February was the last day I would hunt. It was the last time I would shoot birds and it would also be my last scouting trip for the rally that would take place five days later. I had another good shoot and after I had shot my last bird that I would take for the season I spent a good bit of time walking around and reminiscing about the last thirty years I have wandered around in that marsh. I also took some pictures and looked for more birds that would hopefully be there on the day of the rally.

The day of the rally we had nice weather. The two men that I had invited to hunt would be driving for a couple of hours each way, so we were going to make it an enjoyable hunt instead of walking them to death only for them to have to make the drive home afterward. We hunted a small piece of shoreline on a large lake as well as a couple of small ponds. I wasn't surprised that we found most of the birds up on the smaller ponds. The edge of the water along most of the lake was well up into grass that was denser than snipe prefer. The ponds were dry earlier in the season and the grass around them was sparse. Most of the birds that were shot around them sat very tight. When we had walked the designated area my guests had eight snipe between them. Not a record day for either of them but I was happy that they were able to bag a few.

When the sun slid below the trees the season had come to an end. It was a memorable season filled with new guns, new experiences, and a few birds in the freezer. There was a day when not a sngle shot was fired, and there was a day when a limit of eight snipe was taken on consecutive shots. It was also the only season in recent memory when every bird that was knocked down was recovered. After consideration I truly believe it was about as close to perfect as any season could get, just as every other one before it has been.






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