The First Snipe

By Skip Hutchison

Do you remember that first kill you made while hunting. I'd bet most of us do whether it was a bird, squirrel, or rabbit. It was better than thirty years ago but I still remember my first snipe fondly. I honestly believe today I could walk to within fifty yards of where I shot it. I was hunting that day with my father and Keith. Keith lived across the street and was the one that taught me about snipe. He taught me where to hunt them and it was with his single-shot 20 gauge Winchester 37 that I shot my first one.

Keith was two grades ahead of me in school and we both played high school baseball. At the time he was on the varsity team and I was a freshman playing on the junior varsity team. I have not seen him since he graduated and moved away. That would have been about a year after I shot that first snipe. I wish today I could thank him for introducing me to what has become an important part of my life although in all likelihood we will not cross paths again. But who knows, maybe he's still out there chasing snipe and somehow he'll stumble upon this story.

I don't know the exact date when I shot that first snipe nor do I know how many days I hunted or shells I fired prior to that day. I'm sure when I did get that first bird I noticed the feeling of its soft feathers and warm body the way I still do today. We had a routine that involved Keith and dad walking down the edge of the lake while I was posted at the largest of a couple of water holes where the birds often retreated to when flushed from the lake. There were a couple of good reasons why that was a good idea. First, two people is already one too many to walk a short stretch of shoreline. Second and most important was the safety factor. It was still a few years before I would be old enough to drive a car and while I've always been a safe handler of firearms there was no way three people could be safely shooting in such a confined area, especially when as often as not the quarry isn't flying much over head high.

While I'd like to think I always waited patiently for birds to be pushed my way I doubt if that was ever the case. But every so often I would see a bird in the distance headed my way. Sometimes it would follow a shot from either dad or Keith and anytime I heard one or both of them shoot I'd get so excited from the anticipation that I would start shaking. If there such thing as "snipe fever", the equivalent of buck fever to a deer hunter, I had it. What would often happen next would be a snipe heading for the pond where I was waiting to attempt another ambush. As soon as it got into what I perceived to be shooting range, probably something on the order of seventy-five yards, there'd be a single "boom' from the little Winchester 37 followed by the letdown of a bird, or a couple of birds, headed back out to the open lake. Countless times that was repeated. Truth be told my two older and more experienced hunting companions weren't exactly filling the freezer with game but I will concede that they were doing a little better than I was.

The bird that was to be the first of many didn't appear to be any different than all those that had made a fool of me on previous approaches. I was facing south and a bird was coming in from my left, or passing east to west. He thought he was going to land on the other side but I didn't allow that. There'd be no refuge at the water hole I was entrusted to guard. The routine was for me to shoot and the bird to get back out there where dad or Keith might get a crack at it. That was the only realistic way it was going home with us anyway. At the shot he didn't hit the afterburners and show flashes of his white belly against the background of pine trees the way every bird prior to him had. I'm not sure what I really saw or if I didn't see anything at all. Perhaps all I saw was no bird flying away. I had to walk halfway around the little waterhole and as I got to where he was when I shot I spotted the bird laying on the ground. I hustled over and as I picked it up Keith, who was approaching from the same direction that the bird did, said "Here he is". He reached down and picked up a bird ten to fifteen feet away from the bird I was picking up.

How could that be? If it happened the way it appeared to a second bird must have been on the ground directly behind the bird I shot. There was definitely not two birds in the air. The only other possibility is that Keith was trying to plant one he'd shot. If that was what really happened it was a safe bet he wouldn't have to worry about us ending up with two birds. But end up with two birds we did. To this day I like to think the first time I shot a snipe I shot two with one shot, a feat I've repeated twice since. If that isn't what really happened I will never know anyway. I would also never have imagined how important that moment would be for me to this day.


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