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Article in: Birding
November 17, 2009

Snipe Hunting: American Folklore

Disney/Pixar’s Up has been praised for the wordless, yet beautifully-rendered, portrayal of the courtship and marriage of main character, Carl Fredrickson, and his now-deceased wife in the opening sequence. Although entertaining and fun, this movie perpetuates a few misconceptions and myths that ruffled the feathers of a few of us in the Birdfreak team.

One misconception is that dogs of certain breeds (namely Doberman, Rottweiler, and Bulldog) are vicious animals—not true! These dogs make wonderful pets, and are only mean if their owners train them to be that way. But the biggest fallacy that Up perpetuates is that a Snipe is a mythical creature.

Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson's Snipe

The Snipe-hunting myth is one piece of American folklore that I have only become aware of in recent years. A friend had mentioned a joke an uncle had played on the kids in the family, and didn’t believe me when I assured her that Snipes are real birds. To find out more about this myth, I searched online. According to web-indexes.com (http://myth.web-indexes.com/american-folklore/Snipe-Hunt.html), a snipe hunt “is one of a class of practical jokes that involve experienced people making fun of newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. Inexperienced campers or hunters are told about a bird or animal called the snipe, as well as a (usually ridiculous) method of catching it – such as running around the woods carrying a bag, or making strange noises. Since the supposed snipe doesn’t exist, the hunt never succeeds, no matter how foolishly the newcomer acts.”

Birders will be able to tell you that Snipes do indeed exist, and Birdfreak.com has the photographic evidence to prove it! So let’s get this straight, once and for all: Although newbies to the world of the Great Outdoors are tasked with an absurd method of catching a Snipe, the birds themselves are not mythical beings (although Up does contain a mythical bird, nicknamed Kevin, that I am positive does not exist outside of this movie).

Wilson’s Snipes foraging in a creek
Wilson's Snipe

Because the Birdfreak team only watches birds and doesn’t hunt them, we can’t offer any advice on actual Snipe-hunting methods, but if you would like to see a Wilson’s Snipe in the wild, look for this short, stocky, and shy shorebird in vegetation low to the ground, and keep in mind they are very well camouflaged with their surroundings. Look for them along roadsides in marshy, muddy places where they can be seen foraging in the mud for earthworms, insects, etc.

Note: Wilson’s Snipe is often referred to as “Common Snipe” but the species was split into two, the Common being found in eastern Asia.

Post written by Snowy Owl, guest writer and editor for Birdfreak.com

3 Comments or Trackbacks   ↓ Jump to add comment ↓

  1. Robert Mortensen says:

    I was a victim of the Snipe Hunt as a new Boy Scout at 12 years old. I then became responsible for perpetuating the Snipe Hunt on dozens of other scouts who came after me. Ah…the memories.

    Our method of carrying out the hunt was to take the young and impressionable scouts out at night into the middle of the woods or sagebrush (depending on where we were camping in Idaho). They each had a pillow cases open and ready to receive the snipes that we were to scare out of the bush. We all “knew” that snipe were so dumb that they’d run right into the open bag. For the hazing to be complete, we confiscated their flashlights because we needed them to scare the snipes in their direction. The young scouts were left standing in a circle in the middle-of-nowhere calling in the snipes, while we older scouts went out into the wilderness to scare the snipes back toward them.

    I can still hear the kids hollering “Here snipe! Here snipe!” from the hills while we older scouts sat cozily sipping hot cocoa around the camp fire. When the new scouts finally found their way back to camp the initiation had been complete…almost instant maturity obtained by having been deceived…and once they got over their initial irritation and realized it was funny, they too knew that they would pass on the myth.

    Now my own son has seen real Wilson’s Snipe with me on a few occasions and knows their typical habitat. I am confident he will never become a victim of the Snipe Hunt initiation. Plus it will probably be outlawed as soon as some hapless boy scout spends a cold night in the woods and his parents sue, but why let that stop several generations of prank perpetuation?!

    Posted on: November 17, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  2. John says:

    I don’t think I ever heard this expression while I was growing up. Then again, I didn’t grow up around hunters.

    Posted on: November 19, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

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