If you’re thinking about a final spring adventure before the advent of summer reruns, zealots of the great outdoors will be happy to introduce you to snipe hunting. You probably deserve it.
Snipe hunting is a traditional American exploit, ranked high on the all-time list of Things You Do Only Once in a Lifetime, like hunting bear with a pen knife or fighting a mountain lion bare fisted. Once you’ve been snipe hunting, you’ll never be able to top the experience. It will linger in your heart like warm beer or Mom’s rhubarb pie.
Incidentally, you can purchase your Federal Snipe Stamp at your neighborhood Wal-Mart store. Go ahead. It’s worth it. Besides, it’s a kick to see the expression on the clerk’s face when you ask for it.
When I was a kid, snipe season came around each spring, sparked by daylight-saving time and dark phases of the moon. The event was always proclaimed by older guys who were anxious to initiate new members into the Snipe Hunters Club of America.
It was easy. All we initiates had to do was squat in the dark with a gunny sack and wait for the snipes to come. Of course we also had to coo softly and mumble the Snipe Chant, which sounded like “Sweet Adeline” only with different words. It went like this:
“Sweet snipes taste fine. They’ll soon be mine.”
We were told that between the cooing and mumbling, snipes would flock to our gunny sacks by the hundreds. But a tricky part remained. We had to toss our sacks over the snipes’ heads and beat them senseless with sticks, because they had teeth.
The older guys also warned us to bring a wagon to haul home our loot, because that many snipes would weigh too much to carry. I immediately contacted my friend Smooth Heine, because his father had a wheelbarrow. Smooth said, “What are snipes?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but older guys say they taste just like chicken.”
“So do rattlesnakes,” Smooth said, “but I’ll get the wheelbarrow.”
So off we went in the darkness until we were out of earshot of the older guys who fell to the ground, giggling uncontrollably. They finally got bored and left us holding the bag, so to speak, which, I suppose, was the origin of that quaint expression. At the time I thought it was part of the annual snipe hunting ritual.
But after a couple hours, the thrill of the hunt began to wane. Toes froze, noses ran, and it became apparent that something besides fowl was afoot.
I think it was at that point that we novice snipe hunters began to have doubts about ever graduating from Gullible High. As we squatted in the darkness, Smooth whispered, “They aren’t coming, are they?”
“They will,” I said, “but I wonder what a snipe looks like.”
Smooth hunkered down and said, “Just keep cooing, and maybe we’ll find out.”
“Coo, coo, coo,” I sang softly.
That was when I heard rustling in the brush in front of us accompanied by a deep humming, and about then I wished I had asked my father to join us. Dad wasn’t a hunter, but he had all the adult attributes — he drank too much and told wild stories.
Then suddenly out of the gloom a giant snipe appeared as a dark shape, bouncing off trees like a pinball and humming. We peered through the gloom in terror.
“It’s BIG!” Smooth whispered.
But we weren’t to be diverted. As the snipe passed our hideout, we yelped and leaped from cover, pulling our sacks down over the snipe’s head. “Ulp,” said the snipe as it fell to the ground, and we whacked it with our sticks. Whack, whack, whack.
Then a muffled voice yelled, “WHAT IN TARNATION?” It was recognizable even through the coarse threads of our gunny sacks. It was — oh, my God — DAD!
“I gotta go home,” Smooth said, but I didn’t hear him. I was already gone.
The next morning Dad plopped down at the kitchen table, rubbed the welts on his head, and said, “Essie, next time the kids go snipe hunting after dark, don’t send me after them. I ran into a bunch of those snipes, and they’re downright dangerous.”
Mom just sighed and looked away as was her Nebraska farm girl religion.
So I tell you, folks, snipe hunting can be one of the greatest adventures of your life, if you’re lucky. If you aren’t, well, don’t let the snipes bite.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.