Last weekend when I was out scouting for turkeys I bumped into a woodcock. A woodcock is a migratory game bird that is also known as a timberdoodle because of how it darts in and around cover to avoid ending up as the guest of honor at the dinner table.
The bird is also called a snipe, which most people think is a mythical bird used to prank greenhorns. In the fake hunt, a veteran talks the greenhorn into holding a bag for the snipe to run into. The veteran then explains that he or she is going to loop around and make a drive pushing the snip towards the bagger. The bagger is instructed to remain ready and hold the bag open between their legs so the snipe can run into it. The veteran prankster heads back to the truck leaving the rookie alone in the dark. The prank comes full circle when the bagger finally has the revelation that the entire hunt is a ruse.
The snipe actually is a real bird but most people don’t realize that because it’s more common name in the outdoor world is woodcock. While the snipe is a darting, whirling flyer, its springtime mating ritual is way more remarkable. The male bird starts by calling out a mating call that is like a half peep/half jolt of electricity. The “zeeeeeppppp” call is repeated while the male turns in a circle trying to convince a female that he is a catch. If that doesn’t work, the male takes to the air and flies in a corkscrew pattern, flying higher and higher and then abruptly goes into a freefall and plummets back to the ground. At the last second the male recovers and lands in the same spot it took off from and starts the routine all over again.
That all came flooding back to me when I bumped into that snipe while I was out scouting for turkeys in the morning. I decided to go back to the woods that night to see if I could catch a glimpse of the spring time sky dancer. I explained all of that to Big River Rich who seemed a bit skeptical but also intrigued enough to join me.
After we got to the woods, we walked in opposite directions so that we could cover more ground as well as double our chances of seeing something. I wondered if at that point Big River Rich thought I was pulling one over on him and he had walked into a “snipe hunt” setup. Eventually we met back up at a woodpile to sit and listen. Just when we thought it wasn’t going to happen, I heard the distinct call. A male snipe was only 50 yards away from us.
We watched the bird for 10 minutes and when he took to the air, we ran to the nearby pine tree and laid on the ground under the green bough canopy. Less than a minute later, the snipe landed so close to Big River Rich that he could have captured it with a walleye dipnet.
We watched several more sequences and then slipped away when the male took to the air again. I think Big River Rich enjoyed the real snipe hunt just as much as I did. If there was ever such a thing as catch-and-release bird hunting, this was it.