The folklore surrounding snipe hunting as a practical joke played on gullible, inexperienced campers has been around for so long that some people don’t realize snipe are real birds. But they are! This migratory bird overwinters in balmy Florida providing hunters with exciting wingshooting opportunities.
In addition to preferring warm weather, snipe need vast amounts of wetland habitat and moist soil. So, it’s no wonder hunters in Florida generally harvest more snipe than any other state, and by a good margin.
“There are so many great reasons to hunt snipe,” said Mark McBride, biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “In areas of good habitat, snipe will be numerous, allowing for lots of action. They present a challenge because they are small birds and quick, erratic fliers. Only minimal hunting gear is needed, and they taste great.”
Snipe season in Florida always runs Nov. 1 – Feb. 15, and there are several wildlife management areas in central and south Florida that offer good snipe hunting opportunities. The best snipe hunting WMAs contain wetlands with low cover around the edges, and the banks along Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee and St. John’s rivers are traditional snipe hunting hotbeds.
“Snipe prefer shallow flooded areas like river floodplains, shallow flooded pastures and around the edges of large lakes,” McBride said. “Spend a little time on Google Earth looking for these habitats and then go out and walk around some of the wetland spots you pick out – and if you find one snipe there’s a good chance there are many more.”
Hunters should note that habitat conditions for snipe can change with periods of rain or drought and snipe will respond to these changes.
“Wet winters often spread snipe out and you may have to do more walking to find birds, but snipe will also move in quickly to newly flooded areas,” McBride said. “However, the best hunting is during dry periods when snipe are more concentrated in and around most any shallow water you find.”
You may legally shoot snipe from a half-hour before sunrise until sunset, but McBride prefers hunting them in the morning when it is cooler and more comfortable. He also recommends waiting until sunrise, so the birds are more visible.
A dog can be helpful in finding downed birds but is not necessary as long as you pay close attention and have a good visual mark of where the bird went down, McBride said.
“It’s similar to quail hunting, and if you hunt alongside others, it can be very social and you can kick up more birds that way,” McBride said. “But you can also hunt alone and it’s a great way to exercise because snipe hunting entails a lot of walking.
“Snipe fly low to the ground and they get up fast, much like quail. However, snipe fly more erratic and twist and change direction more quickly.”
A hunting license and no-cost migratory bird permit are required to hunt snipe, and a $26 management area permit is also needed when hunting on a WMA. Those can be obtained at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or at tax collector offices and at most places that sell hunting and fishing supplies.
Not much gear is required when snipe hunting, and most hunters choose #8 or #9 shot size in their shotguns. However, because snipe are migratory game birds, all shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity.
“You can wear camo when snipe hunting but it’s not necessary,” McBride said. “I mostly wear dark-green or brown earth-tone colored shirt and pants, but knee-high rubber boots are a must.”
McBride said snipe hunters need good species identification skills, as there are many similar-looking shorebirds that can be mistaken for snipe. The daily bag limit on snipe is eight and McBride said they are quite tasty.
“Snipe are good table fare – their breast is about the same size as a dove’s and the meat is slightly darker,” McBride said. “My favorite way of cooking snipe is on the grill wrapped in bacon, but I also love making a snipe pot pie and having it in fajitas.”