Snipe and Woodcock – Sport and Conservation, Colin McKelvie, 1996

The sounds of snipe. From the light “chip, chip, chip” of one snipe calling to another, to the “scaip, scaip” cry and beating of wings heard on the flush, what authors sometimes poetically suggest the snipe flushed is crying out “escape!  escape!”.  I love these sounds.

I spent the pre-season autumn carefully reading what must be considered a modern classic, Snipe and Woodcock – Sport and Conservation, by Colin McKelvie.  A practical discussion of the subject interleaved with literary references and with Mr. McKelvie’s fine prose style, it is a book spanning topics from habits and habitat, breeding and conservation, to appropriate guns and loads, hunting over dogs to walked up shooting – it is expansive.


This is a modern classic in the same way that de Visme Shaw’s “Snipe and Woodcock” is a classic for snipe shooting enthusiasts.  In a similar fashion to the classics, Colin McKelvie references not only the technical but also the literary, referencing Tennyson at the beginning of the chapter on natural history:  “The marsh, where humm’d the dropping snipe…”  

I have found myself lingering over certain passages where discussion of the snipes’ sounds runs deep, for example discussing the “bleating” sound male snipe make during courtship, a sound I have yet to hear:

“The drumming sound of the snipe is a wonderfully evocative sound in the countryside in spring and early summer.  It is a pleasing, gentle noise that has remarkable carrying power, especially in moist, warm air, and it is often teasingly ventriloquial in quality, making it difficult to tell whether the drumming bird is above you, ahead or behind, or off to one side.”

Recalling a post I made on March 22, 2016, Mr. McKelvie expounds further,

“The bleating sound of the snipe in spring and summer has so dominated traditional ideas of this species that it was formerly referred to by the Latin name Capella, meaning “the little kid” or “the little she-goat”.  I have always liked this charming term, which is such an accurate reflection of the birds very prominent breeding sound, which is such an accurate reflection of the bird’s very prominent breeding sound, and it seems a great pity that it has been replaced by the formal Latin name Gallinago gallinago.  Nothing about the snipe strikes me as being the slightest gallinaceous or hen-like – the snipe is far too elegant and racy for such a parallel – while the comparison with a goat kid is apt and vividly descriptive.”

As I live in a wintering area for snipe, this passage caused me to peruse the Internet looking for recordings of this sound, something I heartily recommend (when not afield!)

Snipe and Woodcock – Sport and Conservation offers a complete discussion of common snipe, (but includes an interesting chapter on the jack snipe), ranging from details of shot loads and patterns, to different dog breeds and their efficacy, to methods for walking up and driven shooting, conservation matters, and so much more.  While focusing principally on snipe and woodcock in the British Isles, especially the Hebrides, and Ireland, McKelvie’s descriptive, informative and colorful writing combine to make this a must-read for the snipe shooting enthusiast.

Highly recommended, a search through will reveal numerous copies.  I obtained my from Paul at Coch-y-Bonddhu Books (  Happy hunting!



Ernest Hemingway – a Quote for the Day

Readers of Hemingway who hunt are likely to have read “The Green Hills of Africa”.  In this book is a wonderful, fun and almost carefree description of a side duck hunting trip with his second wife, Pauline, and encountering snipe as incidental bag:

“A flock of dark ibises, looking, with their dipped bills, like great curlews, flew over from the marsh on the side of the stream where Karl was and circled high above us before they went back into the reeds.  All through the bog were snipe and black and white godwits and finally, not being able to get within range of the ducks, I began to shoot snipe to M’Cola’s great disgust.” 

Apparently, his gunbearer was unimpressed.

But coming around to shooting in general, I love this line quoted from “Winner Take Nothing”:

“When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first.”


Wishing you all a happy and successful season.

Snipe in the Art of Arthur Burdett Frost

I apologize for being away from this blog for so long.  The past year started out with good intentions and turned into a rather poor year for snipe here. This may have been an omen for my year.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” –Allen Saunders

For those few fellow enthusiasts who have visited here from around the world, I thank you for visiting.  Have stumbled onto some interesting antiquarian book references that should provide some interesting reading for the snipe enthusiast.  I also will start including more historical works of art with references to the many fine artists who have chosen snipe as a subject at one time or another.  With this said, here are a few examples from Arthur Burdett Frost.

A.B. Frost (January 17, 1851 – June 22, 1928) was an American illustrator, cartoonist, and painter who was able to capture movement and action with great realism.  His many paintings included fine examples of sporting activities, especially wing shooting, angling, etc.  Curiously, he was color blind, which many believe contributed to his mastery of grayscale.  Frost’s art can speak for itself.

“Bay Snipe Shooting”

Bay Snipe Shooting - A.B. Frost

“Bay Snipe”

Bay Snipe - A.B. Frost

“English Snipe Shooting”

English Snipe Shooting - A.B. Frost

More can be read about Frost’s history at the Norman Rockwell Museum online at:


“The Fowler in Ireland” by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, 1882

Many of those who happen upon this site will be familiar with Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey from his two volume contribution collaboration with Lord Walsingham to the Badminton Library (published in 1889 by Longmans, Green and Co., see earlier references made on this site).  Of particular interest in this series to the snipe hunter is the volume subtitled “Moor and Marsh”, which has a very nice treatment of snipe shooting of that time, and still of great interest today.  But I digress…

I managed to obtain a copy of “The Fowler in Ireland” by Payne-Gallwey, published in 1882 by John van Voorst in London, and have been slowly working my way through the book. As you might imagine, found myself jumping straight to “Chapter XI, Snipe and Woodcock”.  Not at all what I imagined it might be based on previous readings of Payne-Gallwey, this entertaining chapter reads more of a list of sporting logs, noting behavior of local birds, birds bagged, etc. almost in the spirit of J.J. Pringle.  Despite the Victorian publishing date, this book tends toward the matter-of-fact versus the romantic that seemed prevalent in sporting literature of the day:

“Many districts are nevertheless still very good for Snipe in Ireland, and the indefatigable walkers, who know the country, now and then add up a large total in the season ;  though a sensational number in a day in very unusual.  Bags from ten to fifteen couple are not unfrequent, and from twenty to forty and even fifty couple in a day not unheard of in well-protected and suitable land.”

Also included are letters between sportsmen, describing availability, conditions, bags, etc.  In particular, I love this inclusion:

“Cork, May 30th, 1881

Dear ——-

“Several years since a bet was made by a friend of mine that my brother and I would shoot more Snipe in a day than any two others that could be named, each party to select the country they wished to shoot over, and both to shoot on the same day.  A day earlier in the month of November was fixed.  My brother and I went to the neighborhood of Dunmanway (the day was very mild and fine, and shot over dogs), and bagged fifty-nine and a half couple (119 birds).

I got thirty-seven and a half, and my brother, who could not walk well, twenty-two couple.  The other party did not kill so many, and we won the bet.  This was a good bag for two guns, but nothing wonderful, and I have heard of much larger being made.


W. H. Townsend”

Perhaps not a sporting masterwork, the book is nonetheless charming in it’s discussion of the practical matters of snipe shooting in Ireland, from these letters describing a days shooting, daily logbooks describing the bag, descriptions of common, jack, Sabine’s and double snipe, etc.  And from a historical perspective, Payne-Gallwey includes a very interesting discussion of the practice of snaring snipe (or woodcock) with a “springe”.  As “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I am including this taken from the chapter.


An unusual book for our time, complete with everything from snaring of snipe, to shooting ducks with a punt gun to netting plovers, it offers a wonderful lens into the sporting past.

Excerpt from “Hunting Upland Birds”, by Charles F. Waterman

With an arctic blast passing through the Willamette Valley , I’ve been spending more time looking over my bookshelf for inspiration to get me through to warmer days when snipe are able to probe the marshes again, bringing me afield.  Charles F. Waterman’s book Hunting Upland Birds caught my eye this morning, and I quickly opened to the chapter”Woodcock and Snipe”.  A slender nine page treatment, it is nonetheless satisfying and shows Waterman’s love of the diminutive bird, recalling those rare days where “they are thick today and gone tomorrow”:

“Every hunter should have a bird to feel sentimental about, and the snipe is mine, I guess.  Although I will flounder after them, wild-eyed and sweating, when more sensible shooters retire to the boat or car, there are certain places and conditions in which I don’t want to shoot snipe.  For example, I had a scraggly duck blind on a spring creek in Montana, a spot where the mallards slide in ahead of the freezes that close most other waters.   For ten years I carried my decoys along the shore of that creek, and there is one stretch where the mud is just the right consistency, with just the right gleaming water film on top.  It is a stretch about 75 yards long, and my blind sat at one end of it.  Contingents of snipe, obviously stopping off on their way south, drop into the little flat all fall, stay a few days, and leave again.  On one walk along the 75 yards, I put up thirty-one snipe, an on several occasions I have slipped a bunch of snipe loads into my coat, carefully separated from the duck ammunition, but I have never fired a shot with them.  I finally quite carrying snipe loads.”


Waterman’s book is as complete a modern survey of upland game hunting as I have encountered, and despite the few pages dedicated to the snipe, to me it is a wonderful short essay that frames in all that snipe hunting has to offer. A life long sportsman and outdoor writer, Charles Waterman passed away in 2005 at the age of 91.  Preparing for today’s entry, I found an obituary that sums his life up very nicely, which you can find here:


“The Snipe”, Phanuel Bacon, 1765

Whiling the evening away and watching the snow pile up outside, a rare enough thing in the Willamette Valley, I stumbled across this very old and humorous song/verse by Phanuel Bacon.  In summary, it’s a song set to the tune of  “A Cobbler There Was” that tells the story of a friar and his friend out snipe hunting.  The friend shoots a  single snipe, then hides it away in his waistcoat pocket…and forgets about it.  Folk start wondering where the horrible smell is coming from, assuming he is sick. Three weeks later, he discovers the source!

While a bit of a long read, I am taking the liberty of including it in it’s entirety, with some background information on Bacon as available below the text:

I’ll tell you a story, a story that’s true,
A story that’s dismal, and comical too;
It is of a Friar, who some people think,
Tho’ as sweet as a nut, might have dy’d of a stink.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

This Friar would often go out with his gun,
And tho’ no great marksman, he thought himself one;
For tho’ he for ever was wont to miss aim,
Still something but never himself was to blame.
Derry down, &c.

It happen’d young Peter, a friend of the Friar’s,
With legs arm’d with leather, for fear of the briars,
Went out with him once, tho’ it signifies not
Where he hired his gun, or who tick’d for the shot.
Derry down, &c.

Away these two trudg’d it, o’er hills and o’er dales,
They popt at the partridges, frighten’d the quails;
But, to tell you the truth, no great mischief was done,
Save spoiling the proverb, as sure as a gun.
Derry down, &c.

But at length a poor Snipe flew direct in the way,
In open defiance, as if he would say,
“If only the Friar and Peter are there,
“I’ll fly where I list, there’s no reason to fear.”
Derry down, &c.

Tho’ little thought he that his death was so nigh,
Yet Peter by chance fetch’d him down from on high;
His shot was ramm’d down with a journal, I wist,
The first Time he charg’d so improper with Mist.
Derry down, &c.

Then on both sides the speeches began to be made,
As-I beg your acceptance-O! no sir, indeed-
I beg that you would sir,-for both wisely knew,
That one Snipe could ne’er be a supper for two.
Derry down, &c.

What the Friar declin’d in a most civil sort,
Peter slipt in his pocket; the de’el take him for’t!
But were the truth known, ‘twould plainly appear,
He oft times had found a longer bill there.
Derry down, &c.


Hid in his pocket the Snipe safely lay,
While a week did pass over his head, and a day,
Till the ropes for a toast too offensive were grown,
And were smelt out by ev’ry nose but his own.
Derry down, &c.

The Friar look’d wholesome it must be agreed,
So no one could say, whence the stink should proceed;
Where the stink might be laid, tho’ no one could say,
‘Tis certain he brought it and took it away.
Derry down, &c.

At sight of the Friar began the perfume,
And scarce he appeared but he scented the room:
Snuff-boxes were held in the highest esteem,
And all the wry Faces were made where he came.
Derry down, &c.

As the place he was in it was call’d this and that;
In his room ’twas a close-stool, or else a dead rat;
In the fields where he walk’d for some carrion ’twas guest,
‘Twas a fart at the Angel and pass’d for a jest.
Derry down, &c.

At length the suspicion fell thick on poor Tray,
Till he took to his heels and with speed ran away;
Thought the Friar poor Tray I’ll remember thee soon,
If I live to grow sweet I’ll give thee a bone.
Derry down, &c.

For he knew that poor Tray was most highly abus’d,
And if any, himself, thus deserv’d to be us’d:
For ’twas certainly he, whom else could he think;
‘Twas certainly he that must make all the stink.
Derry down, &c.

So when he came home he sat down on his bed,
His elbow at distance supported his head;
His body long while like a pendulum went;
But all he could do did not alter the scent.
Derry down, &c.

Thus hipp’d he got up and pull’d off his cloaths,
He peep’d in his breeches and smelt to his hose,
And the very next morning fresh cloaths he put on,
All, all but a waistcoat, for he had but one.
Derry down, &c.

But changing his cloaths did not alter the case,
And so he stunk on for three weeks and three days;
‘Till to send for a doctor he thought it most meet;
For tho’ he was not, yet his life it was sweet.
Derry down, &c.

The doctor he came, felt his pulse in a trice;
Then crept at a distance to give his advice:
But sweating, nor bleeding, nor purging would do,
For instead of one stink this only made two.
Derry down, &c.

The friar oft-times to his glass would repair,
But to death he was frighten’d when e’er he came there;
His eyes were so sunk, and he look’d so aghast,
He verily thought he was stinking his last.
Derry down, &c.

So for credit he hastens to burn all his prose,
And into the fire his verses he throws;
When searching his pockets to make up the pile,
He found out the Snipe, that had stunk all the while.
Derry down, &c.

So he hopes you will now think him wholsome again,
Since his waistcoat discovers the cause of his pain:
To conclude, the poor Friar intreats you to note,
That you might have been sweet had you been in his coat.
Derry down, &c.

Printed and sold at the printing-office in Bow-Church-Yard, London, [1765?]

“Phanuel Bacon DD (13 October 1700 – 10 January 1783) was an English playwright, poet and author. He was the son of the Rev. Phanuel Bacon, vicar of St Laurence’s church, in Reading.

In his youth, Bacon attended Abingdon School and later entered St John’s College, Oxford. He became vicar of Bramber, Sussex, and rector of Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire. Among his works are The Kite (1722), The Moral Quack, The Insignificants, The Tryal of the Timekillers, The Occulist and The Taxes, all written in 1757.”

(source: Wikipedia.  References:  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). “Bacon, Phanuel”. Dictionary of National Biography. 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co.)


Fin, Fur and Feather ‘Snipe and Woodcock’, L. H. De Visme Shaw, 1903

Of the numerous texts written on the snipe as a game bird, one that I continue to return to is “Snipe and Woodcock” from the Fin, Fur and Feather series.  Written by L.H. De Visme Shaw, the first edition was published in 1903 by Longmans, Green and Co., of London, New York and Bombay.

Minute observations on habit and habitat were the order of the day, and while re-reading this text (in preparation for another season), I found the following paragraph both informative and charming:

“In one habit the full snipe differs diametrically from any other bird whose ways it is possible to observe closely.  While other birds invariably rest with their heads to the wind, the snipe invariably does the reverse.  Why, it is impossible to say.  The bird, its shanks flat upon the ground and its beak pointing downwards and pressed against the breast, poses itself in the form of the letter V, the raised fan-like tail partly shielding the back from the wind.”


Mr. De Visme Shaw was an accomplished wildfowler and writer on the topic of, especially of migratory game birds.  I return to this volume regularly as it always seems to have something new to share.  For those who stumble across these pages I continue to post, I wish you a bountiful season.