In Ireland the Snipe has a special relationship with the hunter. In the bleak bogs of the North and West of Ireland game birds are scarce. Amongst the dense heather few game species find refuge. One such species thrives, the Snipe, either the common snipe or the Jack Snipe. The Jack Snipe is a smaller species of snipe, typically a loner with shorter beak, and straighter and weaker flight path. Jacksnipe have nearly an exact camouflaged pattern of feathers as the common snipe and therefore are only shot by mistake! (Guilty!) Snipe shooting here is mostly with the common Snipe.
Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Snipe habitat in Ireland can vary from the black and red bogs high up in the hills and mountains down through the uplands farms with fields filled with rushes. Making a home in the wet corners beside the lush green pastures of Irelands midlands and gathering in numbers on the marshy fringes and coastal inlets.
Many of Irelands youth cut their teeth shooting this marvellous little bird. In many places snipe are in abundance and most days out rough shooting will bag a snipe or at least flush some. The areas that snipe frequent have one thing in common, water. Either waterlogged or marshy ground or having standing or running water close by. In the usually damp climate of Ireland this isn't a problem!
Ireland has a resident Snipe population thought to number 10,000 pairs. This number vastly swells in the winter as colder weather spreads south and west over Europe pushing birds into Ireland. Due to Irelands geographical position it acts like the bottom of the net catching a lot of migrating birds including the Snipes larger, distant cousin, the woodcock.
Apart from habitat the birds need to feed. Snipe feed mostly at night I think. I have come to this conclusion as regularly you will see cow pats out in the fields with the tell tale beak holes of snipe as they have probed for worms. Not once have I seen a snipe rise from these quite bare fields during the day and feel they prefer the cover of darkness to cloak there feeding habits! As the snipe feeds on such creatures a hunter should seek out damp places that has either rich soils or a place known to have held stock earlier in the season. I say earlier in the season as Snipe spook easily and a bog with a large flock of sheep grazing it may have sent the snipe packing!
Snipe are hunted here by a variety of methods. The least but strangest practiced are driven snipe shot from a boat as described in another article posted on the site. Traditional Driven Snipe is still practiced on some large shooting estates here or among members of various shooting clubs dotted up and down the country. A team of guns are usually walked to a drier area of the bog and a large sweep of beaters fan out in a loop often quite a distance from the guns. The beaters walk towards the guns flushing snipe as they squelch through the peat. The birds tend to be high and testing. By far the most popular method of hunting Snipe in Ireland is to "walk them up". This is either done alone or in a group, with or without dogs. The guns will meet usually at a favourite entranceway to their bog or the top of their favourite rushy field; they spread out in a line and casually walk the ground. The Snipe will flush naturally and begin their zigzag flight. Shooting is at a low height so safety is paramount. Most shooting occurs in wide, usually flat areas so clear lines of fire should not be a problem. Many miles can be clocked up this way and if the Snipe are "in" everyone will get shooting!
The other method of walked up snipe shooting is with dogs, to be precise pointing or setting dogs. This is my personal favourite though sometimes a most frustrating method of hunting snipe. When working with dogs hunting parties are usually a lot smaller, either a person on their own or with a friend. Typically the hunt becomes about the dog work rather than bagging Snipe! The trick is to have a dog that will point the snipe before it has spooked and flushed. The hunt therefore becomes a lot quieter and stealthier as you and your dog move through the ground. Senses become more attuned as you are all the time listening for the tell tale "scaipe" of snipe whilst trying to keep and eye on your dog, an eye on the ground in front, and an eye on where your threading! Couple this with having a feel for where the wind and likely scents are coming from for your dogs hunting pattern and you soon become totally absorbed in the pursuit of this small and lightening quick bird.
Many birds will either sense or hear your clumsy approach and flush far in front leaving you frustrated. But, times will come when your dog will mature enough with practice to scent the bird, judge how close it dares to get, then point.
The fun now begins, the dog will stiffen, your attention will be drawn to a likely patch of rough ground ahead, with gun raised the two of you will creep forward honing in, anticipating the flush. Then 30 feet ahead and 10 feet to the right of where you thought it was, up gets the snipe motoring out of there. If your lucky one of your shots will connect with this fleeting marvel sending it tumbling into the scrub like a downed fighter plane. If you watch carefully he typically rolls on his back when killed in mid air, showing for a moment that beautifully contrasting white underside. The perfect shot will hopefully be followed up by a handsome retrieve by your dog.
Snipe shooting in Ireland generally involves a lot of walking, but the temperatures will be comfortable, the ground usually flat. The scenery will be beautiful and the craic mighty! Shooting is organised through friends here or if your coming from further afield many estates and organised clubs offer snipe shooting and you should not have to look no further than to google "Snipe Shooting in Ireland".