Shooting Driven Snipe

By Skip Hutchison

It has been written that driven snipe is the ultimate in wingshooting. I wish I could confirm that from firsthand experience but unfortunately I cannot. Whether it is just a lack of tradition, or because much of the topography doesn't often lend itself to driven hunts, or for some entirely different reason driven snipe shooting is practically unheard of in the United States. However, throughout other areas of the world driven shooting is popular and wherever they are present snipe are the ultimate challenge.

I have a few books that detail traditional driven snipe shooting and the procedure is somewhat similar regardless of where it is done. In this type of shooting birds are driven from higher ground over shooters at a lower elevation. However, that type of terrain isn't mandatory and if circumstances or conditions allow the flight direction of the birds to be determined with a degree of certainty you have the potential for a drive. There have been several marshes and lake beds that I have hunted over the years where the prospect of successful driven snipe shooting exists based on a predictable flight direction that the birds will take when they are flushed.

For some it might be difficult to imagine hunting snipe in a traditional method because for many of us snipe are only found in the low elevation wetland areas. However, there are times and places when snipe head to higher ground, at least some do. In the United Kingdom for example, around the full moon a number of snipe leave the lower bogs and head to the higher areas known as red bogs. There might be some speculation as to what causes a number of the birds to relocate to the higher areas but it has been suggested that at that on the full moon the worms on which they feed are drawn closer to the surface where they are more accessible. The bright moonlit night also makes visibility better for the birds. This is the case in the marshy areas that comprise much of Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland where traditional driven hunts are popular.

What are the requirements for a good driven snipe shoot? The obvious first requirement is birds, and the more the better. One experienced source states that a minimum of 250-300 birds will need to be flushed in a day to give between a half dozen and ten shooters a reasonable chance at some. That is anticipating that ten percent of the birds will be shot. Only some of the birds flushed will pass over the shooters, many of them will be out of range, and in all likelihood no more than one in four that gets shot at will be brought to bag.

You will need a number of "beaters" to push the birds to the shooters. The number will be determined by how wide the area is that you are trying to cover and by how close the drivers have to be together. In open cover they will probably not have to be as close together as in thicker cover where birds would be more inclined to sit tighter and let widely spaced beaters pass without flushing. Still, there will be some birds that allow the line of beaters to pass or get even with them before flushing back behind them. It is also recommended that whenever possible snipe should be driven upwind.

Another consideration is how often this type of shooting should be done. Controlling that might only be possible on private land. No more often than once every three weeks is recommended and driving a marsh or bog only once each month is preferred. An interval like that is unrealistic where I hunt snipe. Over the course of a season I usually average two hunts per week or more and there are a number of other hunters that are also walking the same areas. If we did limit the pressure on the birds to once per month I imagine some drives with large numbers of birds seen would be possible, especially in the years when the habitat is optimal.

I can state one thing with certainty. I have seen enough high flying snipe in my years on the marsh to realize that if I was only taking high overhead shots my hit to miss ratio would not be as good as when walking up birds and shooting them on the flush. Perhaps one day I will be able to participate in a driven snipe shoot. Until that time I will have to look at that single or pair of snipe passing overhead and imagine what it would be like to get a steady dose of that over the course of a morning or afternoon hunt. If nothing else it would be very humbling.

God Bless America!

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