The snipe is an unmistakable bird, both in flight and in the sound it makes when flushed by dog or beater. This slender, racy bird is easily identified by its long bill, pointed wings and characteristic “scraapescraape” cry when it is flushed. It springs quickly, and its fast, erratic, and zigzag flight makes it a testing shot.
The snipe is a very common bird in Ireland and has been recorded in every Irish county. The breeding population in Ireland and, indeed, in the rest of the British Isles is significant, with snipe figuring in the sportsman’s bag on most shooting days. It is a difficult bird to shoot when in flight and is best taken just after it is flushed by either dogs or the walking guns. A relative of the woodcock, snipe are birds of wetlands and most shoots that have a quantity of rushes within their boundary are certain to have a population present at some time during the shooting season.
Various species of snipe are found in Europe but it is the common snipe that is the most numerous. Jack snipe (lymnocryptesminimus) are found in parts of Ireland but are now afforded protection to ensure their numbers remain steady. The smallest of the game birds found in the British Isles, the snipe is no larger than a sparrow and is technically classified as a wader rather than a game bird. Tradition, however, dictates that snipe are game birds and are afforded the same status as our more traditional game birds such as pheasant, woodcock and partridges.
In many parts of the country, the traditional method of snipe shooting is walking up a snipe bog with retrievers at heel and the guns flushing the resident snipe as they make their way across the bog. In Ireland, however, driven snipe shooting is still a popular and a productive way of adding snipe to the bag. Using beaters to slowly cross the bog, the snipe are flushed over the waiting guns. The small, fast targets are demanding shots and bring out the best in the shooter.
When shot, snipe will often bury into cover at the base of rush or bracken and with their body giving off very little scent, they can be difficult for even the best retrievers to scent. Fortunately Irish gundogs, both spaniels and retrievers are adept at locating shot snipe and very few escape the game bag.