California’s statewide snipe season opens Oct. 19, 2019, and runs through Feb. 2, 2020, offering California hunters both an exceptionally challenging upland game bird hunt and some exceptional table fare. The daily bag limit is eight and the possession limit is triple the bag limit.
“They’re real. They’re not just a practical joke,” said Scott Gardner, the senior environmental scientist who leads CDFW’s Upland/Small Game Program, referencing the countless children who have been duped into mythical snipe hunts.
“Snipe are well-distributed throughout the state, but they’re a very challenging bird to harvest. Not only are they a difficult target to hit, but they often hang out with other shorebirds that you can’t take. So you really have to know your stuff when hunting snipe.”
A California hunting license, Harvest Information Program (HIP) Validation and Upland Game Bird Validation are required to hunt snipe. Junior Hunting License holders do not need an Upland Game Bird Validation.
Wilson’s snipe are a plump brown-and-buff migratory shorebird with short, stocky legs and a long bill. They are the only shorebird legal to hunt in California. While they can be found throughout the state during California’s long snipe season, they are elusive and hard to spot on the ground, which means hunters need to be able to identify the birds quickly on the wing.
Snipe typically flush from the ground and fly away in a fast, twisting, zig-zag pattern. The word “sniper,” in fact, originally meant a hunter who was skilled at shooting the notoriously wily bird.
Snipe are frequently found probing muddy ground for earthworms and invertebrates. They prefer the muddy edges of ponds, damp fields and other wet, open habitats. Areas with low vegetation provide adequate camouflage and cover for snipe, but they can often be spotted by glassing the water’s edge with binoculars.
Because of their habitat and a hunting season that runs almost concurrently with California’s Balance of the State Zone waterfowl season, waterfowl hunters are most likely to encounter snipe in the field. Snipe, however, are best pursued with a light upland gun, an open choke and light loads such as #7 steel shot. Waterfowl hunters who take a poke at a fleeing snipe with their heavy guns, big loads and tighter chokes often find themselves punching holes in the air and risk damaging a snipe’s delicate, delicious meat with a shot that connects.
While snipe have a wide wingspan, they are smaller than quail and it may take several birds to make a single meal. They are often roasted or pan-fried whole or breasted out and cooked with butter or bacon. Hunters who enjoy eating dove or duck will likely love the taste of snipe.
Snipe have a small but devoted following among some California hunters. The following tips and suggestions should inspire hunters to give snipe a try this season:
*Snipe hunting can be really good when the duck hunting is poor. Those warm, bluebird days in November make for a great opportunity to go snipe hunting.
* Snipe hunting is great for getting away from the crowds and enjoying some quiet time outdoors. So few people hunt snipe that snipe hunters often have all the boggy, upland fields to themselves.
*Snipe make for an exciting hunt. Snipe flush like a wild pheasant but can provide an abundance of shots and opportunities. A good snipe field can provide hunters with dozens of flushes.
*It helps to go on your first snipe hunt with someone who has hunted snipe before. You’ll be a lot more confident about your identification.
*If you miss a snipe you can often go after it again. A flushed bird will sometimes land again after a short flight.
*Snipe can be difficult and painstaking to pluck whole but it’s often worth the effort. The legs are especially delicious.
*You will almost never see a snipe on the ground before it flushes. Once you learn to identify snipe on the wing, however, it’s easy to distinguish snipe from other shorebirds. Snipe rarely fly in flocks. The vast majority of snipe flushes are single birds. Snipe often make a high-pitched call when they flush, sometimes described as a scaipe.
*Many snipe hunters don’t use hunting dogs. The low, erratic flight typical of a flushed snipe means a lot of low shots that can put a hunting dog in danger.
*Snipe are migratory birds and move. Snipe can be in one day in big numbers and gone the next. A good snipe field one day can be vacant of snipe the next.
*Snipe hunting regulations are available online at CDFW’s website within the 2019-20 bird hunting and public lands regulations booklet.
Please note that nonlead shot is now required when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California. Please plan accordingly. For more information, please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition webpage.