Are You Ready To Go Snipe Hunting?
By Skip Hutchison
Part Two - The Right Gun
For the first decade that I hunted snipe I used only one gun. It was the first and only shotgun I owned. When I was in my early twenties I bought my first gun that was chosen specifically for snipe. At that point I thought I had the best gun for hunting snipe that I could find or afford. For the majority of the conditions I hunt under I was probably right. However, while I haven't found a gun to make me more lethal I have found a few that I enjoy hunting with more than that first snipe gun. That gun is an Over/Under twenty gauge. It came with choke tubes but not being one to put too much emphasis on choke the improved cylinder and modified tubes that were in the gun when I picked it up are still in it. Are there days when I might do better if the open choke was replaced with a full choke? Sure there are, just as there are days when the modified could be replaced with a skeet choke tube making the improved cylinder barrel the one with the most constriction. However, I spend far more time trying to be ready for a flushing bird than I do worrying whether or not I have the best choke combination for a given day. Does that mean an IC/Mod choke combination is the best? From a shooting standpoint over the long run I would do just as well with a pump or auto choked anywhere from skeet to modified. A full choke is the only choke I would consider a liability more often than an asset. If I hunted wide open pastures more than I hunt marshes, and if flushes were longer and I took more high passing shots, I might think more choke was better than less choke. You know your typical range so I will let you decide what choke or choke combination is best for you. Just for the sake of discussion I will say that my first shotgun was a Remington 870 pump that has a fixed modified choke. As a teenager I shot it well and even today I could use it as effectively as any other gun I own. Every other gun I hunt snipe with has two barrels and only one of them has choke tubes. The others are choked IC/Mod, Mod/Full, or IC/Full. If you followed me for a season and watched me shoot them all I doubt if you would be able to conclude that one was superior to another.
What about gauge? I wouldn't use a ten gauge. You could, but I have never seen one light enough that I wanted to carry it very far while slopping through mud, water, and thick, thigh high grass. Assuming you'd never use anything larger even if legal still leaves quite a bit of options. Perhaps the best all around gauge for me might be a twenty gauge. Does that mean it is better than a sixteen or a twelve? Not at all. Anything a twenty can do a sixteen can do every bit as well and sometimes better. The same is even more true for the twelve gauge. So, why do I choose a twenty? I feel it is the best compromise between small size and light weight while still being nearly as effective as a larger bore gun the majority of the time. I like light weight and I like small tubes. I prefer to shoot double guns and the smaller the tubes are the less vision they block. I tend to find anything larger than a pair of twenty gauge barrels to be something of a distraction, although they might be preferred by you. Different tastes make hunting and shooting far more exciting than if we all shot the same guns.
How about hunting snipe with guns smaller than 20 gauge? That is something that will put a smile on my face in a hurry. I can tell a big difference at the end of the day if I have been carrying my little five pound, three ounce twenty-eight gauge. I only wish I could carry it every time I hunted. But I can't, or at least I shouldn't. In my opinion it isn't enough gun for me to effectively and efficiently kill snipe under tough conditions when the birds are skittish and shots are at the long end of effective shotgun range. It might be for you but it isn't for me. You could make the case that you can shoot 7/8 ounce or one ounce loads in a twenty-eight gauge and you would be right. However, very rarely will you end up with patterns as effective as if you had pushed that same payload through a larger barrel. That is just a cold, hard fact of shotgunning. I will briefly mention the four-ten because it will kill snipe. I bought one specifically for the purpose of finding out for myself if it was or was not adequate for snipe. It is far less qualified than a twenty gauge as an everyday gun and marginally efficient unless shots are reasonably close. I don't want to seem hypocritical because I occasionally shoot one even though I don't recommend it. In my opinion it should never be chosen as the first gun someone buys to hunt snipe with, nor the second.
That should leave you with some ideas but not too many absolutes. That is because nobody knows how you shoot better than you. If you are a slow and deliberate shooter you might consider a larger gauge or more choke than if you are a more reflexive shooter that shoots much quicker. If your cover is thick and a twenty-five yard shot is longer than average you can shoot just about any gauge you want with open chokes. You know your taste in guns and you are the one that has to pay for and use your guns. I'd won't tell anyone what gun they should hunt snipe with and neither should anyone else. Pick a gun with weight, barrel length, balance point, etc. that you are comfortable with and have confidence in and you will be happy. I see no reason to show or list the specific guns I shoot. If you want to see them they are all over the Hunting Season photo pages of this website. This article wasn't intended to be a gun show and the guns I own aren't that impressive anyway. They are all I have and they all work well for me on snipe. And when all is said and done, that's all that really matters.
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