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.)


“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:


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.


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 –


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.””


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





Snipe in Haiku – Survey of Japanese Literature, cont.

The sparse language of haiku evokes so well the feeling of the snipe marsh.  Here is a mid century translation of “kokoro naki…,” a poem in classical Japanese by Saigyō.  This translation was by Keene (1955):

Even to someone
Free of passions this sadness
Would be apparent:
Evening in autumn over
A marsh where a snipe rises.

Snipe - Japanese Art

For those interested, I reference you to the following site on the translation of classical Japanese poetry, focusing specifically on the above poem by Saigyō:



Snipe in Haiku – Survey of Japanese Literature

In my literary wanderings, seeking poems and prose that include reflections on the snipe, I have found there is a veritable cornucopia of haiku on the diminutive game bird.  There must be something universal in the solitary nature of the snipe and its habits and habitation.

Here I reference the Japanese poet Issa, and his modern translator David G. Lanoue, for this haunting poem:

all people must
grow old…
the snipe rises

–Issa, 1804

Snipe - Japanese Print

From David’s translation notes “This is an enigmatic haiku. Since the snipe is an autumn bird, perhaps Issa sees it as a sign of his own growing old.”

Reference http://haikuguy.com/issa/index.html



“The Hammer-Bleat” from The Birds of Old English Literature by Charles Huntington Whitman

In my snipe meanderings, I recently stumbled across a Cornell University Library reference book from 1898 titled “The Birds of Old English Literature”, which provides some language background to the bird’s name.

Most will be familiar with the old name “snite“, as described in the first reference:


"Gen. Gallinago. True Snipes. 

LI I. I. snite. Snipe. ME. snite, snyte ; perhaps allied 
to snort, probably having reference to the bird's long bill. 

WW. 285. 12, 344. 38, Cp. C. 138: acegia, snite; WW. 132. 20: aceta, 
snite uel wudecocc."

However, I think I was most charmed by an earlier name derived from the male snipe’s courtship call, which renders in modern English as “hammer-bleat”, among others:

"2. hzeferbljlte. Snipe. This word does not appear in 
ME. but is preserved in Mod.E. as hammer-bleat and 
heather-bleat, a snipe. In the dictionaries it is variously 
termed sea gull, bittern, and hawk. Once it appears as 
hcefenblcete (' haven-screamer,' gull) but this is probably for 
hmferblcEte, the usual form ; <C hosfer, a he-goat (L. caper) + 
blcetan, to bleat, lit. a ' goat-bleater.' This seems to describe 
accurately the male snipe, whose love song resembles the 
bleatmg of a goat. Hence in many languages the snipe is 
known by names signifying ' flying goat,' ' heaven's ram,' 
as in Scotland the ' heather-bleater.' Cf. Diet, of Birds." 


Interesting background information for the curious snipe hunter.  Facsimile edition and full text of this reference book can be found at the Internet Archive:


Great Snipe Engraving



Under “Different Plans for Shooting Snipes” – Dr. Elisha J. Lewis

“The American Sportsman: Containing Hints to Sportsmen, Notes on Shooting and the Habits of the Gamebirds” and Wildfowl of America, by Elisha J. Lewis, M.D. was  published by J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1863.  The book is illustrated with engravings by George G. White, and special attention for my purposes is drawn to “Chapter XI – Wilson’s or English Snipe.  Scolopax Wilsonii–Scolopax Gallinago”.  This chapter is complete in its description of the snipe as a game bird, but as seems so common with sporting writings of the 18th and 19th century, includes poetic fragments, which I’ve selected for today’s posting.

“Next for the snipe you must prepare:

He darts like lightning through the air,

With devious wing; a moment wait,

You’ll see the rover travel straight.”

And further

“When’er you beat for snipes, implore

Old Æolius o’er marsh and moor

Boldly to breathe ; yet always mind

You turn your back upon the wind.”

Sound advice!


“Snipe Shooting” – Sporting Magazine, 1798.

When gelid frosts encrust the faded ground,
And dreary winter clouds the scene around ;
The timid snipes fly to the sedgy rills,
Or seek the plashes on the upland hills.
The sportsman, now, wakes with the gleaming morn,
His gun makes fit, refills his pouch and horn,
And to the swampy meadow takes his way,
With sport and exercise to crown the day.
See first how curiously he scans the sedge,
Then warily proceeds along the edge :
His piece is cock’d, and in position right,
To meet his shoulder readily and light.
But yet more cautiously he treads beside
The well-known plash, where most he thinks to hide
The dappled bird – and from the rushy stream
Frighten’d she rises, with a piercing scream.
His tube the fowler points with steady sight,
And seeks to trace her thro’ her rapid flight ;
Whilst o’er the field she tries each artful wile,
And crooked turn, his level to beguile.
Her slender wings swift cut the buoyant air,
‘Till distance gives her as a mark more fair :
Now glancing, just the marksman gets his aim,
His ready finger doth the trigger strain.
He fires—the fatal shot unerring flies,
The Snipe is struck, she flutters, bleeds, and dies.