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The Hunting of the Snipe

Friday, May 18, 2012
Once, while riding in the backseat with a coupla' Texas cousins, the conversation turned to the best hunting techniques for snipe. Back home, up north, I knew about snipe; they were brown-spotted, streaky-looking birds that ran along sandy shorelines on legs that looked too long and flimsy to hold them up, let alone run.

As I listened, it was clear that the Texas variety was a different animal altogether.

These elusive creatures seemed to have more in common with the armadillo tribe than any snipe I ever saw. Perhaps it was living in the vicinity of oil wells and pipelines -- and the sort of men who worked in such places -- but Texan snipe had an inexplicable fascination with the smell of burning sulfur, like when you lit up one of those old-fashioned strike-anywhere matches. They could also be lured close to a hidden hunter by softly calling "snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…" into the darkness.

I'd never heard of a wild animal that was so egotistical as to know, let alone answer to, its name. On the other hand, I'd never heard of a bird that looked like an armadillo and liked the smell of burnt matches.

Still, their enthusiasm for the hunt led me to believe that these snipe must be very good eating, so I was more than willing to try my beginner's hand at capturing a bagful of them.

We spent the rest of the afternoon gathering supplies and working out our hunting strategy. The supplies were easy: a large grocery sack and a box of kitchen matches for each of us. The strategizing fascinated this neophyte, and I paid careful attention to every word of my more-experienced cousins. It was clear that they knew a lot about the ins and outs of snipe hunting.

For one thing, it made no sense to try to track them or run them down; they were just too wily and quick for that. The most effective method was to sit quietly in a likely spot in snipe country, armed as described, calling softly and lighting matches just in front of the open grocery sack. I was warned to be careful not to hold the matches too close to the bag (that was obvious, even to me -- if the sack got burned, what would I use to carry all the snipe I caught?).

I also learned how efficient my cousins were. In order to best cover the snipe terrain, we would spread out to learn where they were congregating. Whoever caught the first snipe would then call out to the other hunters – then everyone would form a circle of gradually-decreasing diameter, driving the snipe toward the waiting bag of the first successful hunter.

I so wanted to be that snipe hunter.

We waited anxiously for it to get dark, when we (or rather my sixteen-year-old cousin) could drive us out to the hunting grounds.

Now Callahan was, at the time, a dry county – and the only place a thirsty Texan could get a drink was in a private club. There was just such a place, a mile or two outside of Clyde. It was a sign- and window-less cinderblock building surrounded by mesquites, only identifiable because it sat in front of a pile of empty Lone Star cans as big as the building itself. This, I was surprised to learn, was prime snipe country. No doubt it had something to do with all the smokers (and the constant lighting of matches) among the club-members.

Since I was the honored guest on the hunt, I was given the best spot. It was well away from the security light of the clubhouse, on flat sandy ground, surrounded by exactly the kind of brush that provided ideal cover for the secretive snipes. They got me set up, making sure I had everything I needed and understood the night's strategy. Then they went off to find suitable spots to hunt.

I felt bad for them, knowing that they were not as likely to be successful, since they had given me the choice location.

It was a moonless night, but the broad Texas sky was full of stars and their light was more than enough to make out the surrounding mesquites, slightly darker than the sky. I opened the bag slowly, being careful not to make too much noise with the stiff brown paper. I laid it on its side, placing a few small stones inside so that its bottom was flush with the ground. When the mad rush of a snipe happened, I wanted to be sure that it didn't run under the bag.

I lit the first match. Barely louder than a whisper, I began calling "snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe" into the darkness.

Another match, and slightly louder, "snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…"

Nothing yet. I wondered if my cousins were having any better luck. Of course not – I would have heard them yell if they had.

Another match, and slightly louder, "snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe, snipe…"

The stars slowly wheeled around the sky, and my matches were running low, but still no sign of the first snipe. Then I heard it.

A very faint moaning sound.

My cousins hadn't mentioned the kind of noise that snipe made – or perhaps they did, but I hadn't been paying close-enough attention?

There it was again, a little louder.

What if it wasn't a snipe, but some other animal, possibly a territorial longhorn, or some other dangerous beast for which I was unprepared? The moaning faded away a bit, suggesting a change of direction. Maybe the creature had found some more interesting prey. No, it was getting louder again, heading straight for me.

That was no animal.

It was a pick-up truck.

It stopped not far from where I sat, matchless in the wilderness. My grandfather walked over to me, cursing softly in the darkness. "Damfool kids. What the hail would the sheriff say if he found him out here all by hisself?"


Blogger CJ - Food Stories said...

I don't know how I accidentally tripped across your site but I love, love, love it ... I have subscribed to your blog feed & I'm nominating you for MY Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. I know some bloggers don't participate in blog awards but I hope you'll at least check it out because mine is unique in the fact that it is only is given to food sites and all the nominees are in the running for the monthly award and prize. If you're interested, you can check out the details at my site ... ... Either way, love your site and I hope you're having a great foodie day!

June 3, 2012 at 1:38 PM  
Blogger CJ - Food Stories said...

Gary ... I'm still perusing your site and I wanted to share with you that I just found a great deal on your "Resource Guide for Food Writers" so I picked it up. Can't wait to read it! I don't know if you have any foodie groupies but if you do, you can count me in :-)

June 3, 2012 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

Thanks again, CJ!

When I wrote the resources book, I realized that the electronic sources would be out of date before it was even printed -- so I started the updates newsletters (via e-mail at first). Today it's part of the blog, and you should be receiving it automatically if you signed up for the RSS feed -- and back issues are still available (at least as far back as when it converted from e-mail to blog format).

June 3, 2012 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

How very odd...

...whenever we post something (often against our better judgment) that Dr Sanscravat has to say, we expect that any high-minded individuals who happen upon it will quickly turn away to something more worthy of their attention.

You can imagine our surprise at receipt of this comment.

Thank you for nominating us for recognition by

We follow many great food blogs, but -- since we're limited to just five -- we'll recommend these that we read all the time:

Awaiting Table

Edible Geography

Food for the Thoughtless

Gherkins & Tomatoes

A Hunger Artist.

June 5, 2012 at 1:07 AM  

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