“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.

Yours, 

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.

springe-for-snipe-payne-gallwey

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.”

snipe-in-mud

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:

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2005-01-14/news/0501140036_1_charles-waterman-outdoor-writer-photographer

 

“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.

snipe-shooting-old

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.”

wilsons-snipe-resting

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.

 

“Snipe”, Ted Hughes, 1983

It has been some time since my last posting.  Summer angling led to fall angling, and a long backpack trip for mule deer into the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, but now winter approaches bringing these little birds, and to them my own thoughts now turn.

Poet Laureate Ted Hughes moved to Dartmoor in 1961, in a town on the edge of the National Park.  His experiences were captured in two volumes of poetry, Moortown (1979) and River (1983) from which his poem “Snipe” is taken:

 SNIPE

You are soaked with the cold rain –

Like a pelt in tanning liquor.

The moor’s swollen waterbelly

Swags and quivers, ready to burst at a step.

Suddenly

Some scrap of dried fabric rips

Itself up

From the marsh-quake, scattering. A soft

Explosion of twilight

In the eyes, with spinning fragment

Somewhere. Nearly lost, wing flash

Stab-trying escape routes, wincing

From each, ducking under

And flinging up over –

Bowed head, jockey shoulders

Climbing headlong

As if hurled downwards –

hughes-snipe

A mote in the watery eye of the moor –

Hits cloud and

Skis down the far rain wall

Slashes a wet rent

in the rain-duck

Twisting out sideways –

rushes his alarm

Back to the ice age.

The downpour helmet

Tightens on your skull, riddling the pools,

Washing the standing stones and fallen shales

With empty nightfall.

Ted Hughes – The Snipe 1981.

I would like to reference, and thank, the website Legendary Dartmoor for sharing this poem along with some history of Hughes’ time there.  The site author there describes so beautifully snipe shooting in winter:

“For anybody who has trudged laboriously through the sodden tussocks on a wet day this poem will strike a chord of recognition. The rain is pelting down at an angle of 22.5° you are hunched up, head bent in your raincoat and the drips rhythmically cascading off your forehead. Usually you are deep in melancholy thought when all of a sudden a hidden form explodes out from under your foot with a loud, indignant ‘skeep’. Your heart jumps and when you look up you see a flash of dark brown and white frantically zig-zagging low over the moor – “Jack Snipe.””

http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/ted_hughes.htm

A History of English Birds, Vol. VI, The Rev. F. O. Morris, B.A.,

I believe that those who are addicted to the pursuit of snipe become at some point amateur ornithologists.  Knowledge of snipe habits and habitat combined with history and literature are central to the sport, and as with other outdoor pursuits, are part of the core of being sportsmen.

With this in mind, “A History of English Birds, Vol. VI” by the Rev. Francis Orpen Morris presents itself as a cornerstone historical reference. This wonderful volume is the final in a series of six, which were published in London by George Bell & Sons during the years 1851-1857.  The 7 year span to complete the first edition were a combined effort by Morris (writer), Fawcett (artist) and Lydon (principle engraver).  The book contains prints of snipe and woodcock, as well as other species.  Here is the common snipe from the book:

Common snipe - F.O. Morris

Meant as a complete survey of English fowl, Morris opens Vol. VI with a chapter on the woodcock, then follows immediately with chapters on each of the great, common, jack, Sabine’s and brown snipes.  Morris was clearly enamored with the bird, and hints at his Victorian sportsman’s sensibilities that so wonderfully combined science and method with art and reflection:

“The Snipe, like the trout, is connected with my earliest
recollections. There is no bird which gives you more the
idea of a wild-fowl. You may look at a hundred, one after
another, and each will be regarded with fresh interest, and
as if in a new point of view. There is a ‘Je ne scai quoi’
in its whole appearance, which seems to associate you with
itself in a love for running brooks and quiet scenes.”

This small sample will hopefully both inspire those few who venture to my blog site to read Morris’ masterwork, and also help provide sustenance for the snipe shooter waiting out the “bleak” summer months before the next season arrives.

The book may be obtained in reprint form from Amazon.com, and original versions from Abebooks.com search.  The full text is available on the Internet Archive, in multiple reading formats.

I would like to acknowledge the website of Rebecca Nason, who’s site I stumbled across during my ethereal wanderings.  This encouraged me to seek out an original copy of the subject volume.  Yet another excellent reference for us “armchair ornithologists”, her site is located at:  http://birdingblogs.com/2010/rebeccanason/addicted-to-bird-art

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne, 1874

Once an important game bird for sport and table, today the snipe is for many Americans a bird invented for children’s pranks (I believe this is not so in most other parts of the world).  So when I encounter references where the bird appears with no background explanation in popular period fiction, it still fascinates me that the snipe could have morphed in a mere couple of generations into mythological creature.

Reading “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne this spring, I found myself actually surprised when I read the word “snipe”.  This work is quite amazing in the detail which Verne describes the geology, flora and fauna of the island where five men find themselves castaway.  Making a complete scan of the books reveals eight distinct references to snipe as game bird bound for their table, of which I include a few for consideration here.

“Above the aquatic plants, on the surface of the stagnant water, fluttered numbers of birds. Wild duck, teal, snipe lived there in flocks, and those fearless birds allowed themselves to be easily approached.” (page 284)

“On the 3rd of August an excursion which had been talked of for several days was made into the southeastern part of the island, towards Tadorn Marsh. The hunters were tempted by the aquatic game which took up their winter quarters there. Wild duck, snipe, teal and grebe abounded there, and it was agreed that a day should be devoted to an expedition against these birds.” (page 464)

Mysterious Island 2

“As it was easy to land, the usual hunters of the colony, that is to say, Herbert and Gideon Spilett, went for a ramble of two hours or so, and returned with several strings of wild duck and snipe. Top [their dog] had done wonders, and not a bird had been lost, thanks to his zeal and cleverness.” (page 596)

While obviously not the focus of the book, Jules Verne’s inclusion of snipe in his detailed description of the Mysterious Island’s fauna is a bonus for the snipe enthusiast, and is certainly well-qualified adventure reading to pass the time until our own next adventures.

Ile_Mysterieuse_02