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Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) – An Upland Game Bird Profile

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) – An Upland Game Bird Profile

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A wilson's Snipe looking for food in a marsh.

The Wilson’s snipe is a real and worthy pursuit

Perhaps no other bird is so widely misunderstood than the Wilson’s snipe, a bird made famous for its fictitious role in the classic childhood prank. Some people still hold their existence in disbelief! I was one of those gullible kids led on a Snipe hunt during my first Cub Scout overnight, sent astray into the darkness under the encouragement of the older Scouts.

Snipe are a lesser-known upland game bird living in the shadow of the standard-bearers of upland hunting—grouse, woodcock, quail, and pheasant. Yet, in the snipe, you find an upland bird that can challenge the nerves and skills of the most accomplished wing shooters. Plus, it’s found in wide abundance across the globe and delivers excellent table fare.

Description and life history of the Wilson’s snipe

The Wilson’s snipe (Gallinago delicata) is a member of Scolopacidae Family, the sandpipers, alongside its more popular cousin the American woodcock (Scolopax minor). Until quite recently, Wilson’s snipe was simply considered a sub-species of the Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) found across Western and Southern Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. It was recognized as its own species in 2003 thanks to its eight (not seven) pairs of tail feathers and white-edged wings. Regarding upland hunting habitat and tactics, the two birds can be treated as equals.

Snipe are medium-sized migratory birds, are between 9 and 11 inches in length, and have a 15- to 18-inch wingspan. Their feathers form a beautiful mottled pattern of brown, black, tan, and orange with off-white accents. Three distinct stripes run down the back. Tail feathers fan out with vibrant orange, brown, and white bands. The underside transitions to light tans and whites. This collection of plumage creates an impeccable camouflage, making finding downed birds without a dog an exercise in laser-focused methodical searches. The distinctive long straight bill, used for foraging in the soft ground, can reach 3 to 4 inches. Its quintessentially long, narrow legs of sandpipers are yellow-green. Males and females are not distinctly different.

Wilson’s Snipe are found across North America. They breed from Northern states to all across Canada and migrate to the Southern states and beyond into Mexico and Central America. In the Northwest and Rocky Mountains, many snipe stay for the entire year.

Snipe habitat (both Wilson’s and Common) is universally moist soft terrain found in marshes, low country, potholes, river and lake edges, drainage ditches, bottomlands, and wet agricultural fields. While it’s more of a loner, it’s not uncommon to flush pairs and small coveys. Because of their close relationship and appearance to the woodcock, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Timberdoodle,’ snipe have recently adopted the nickname Marshdoodle. Later in the season, snipe occasionally disperse and move to higher dryer ground and fields. This wide range of habitat likely puts suitable cover closer to you than you think.

The snipe’s long bill is the perfect utensil for the soft ground they call home come meal time. Using highly sensitive receptors, snipe meticulously probe the ground and shallow water for worms, invertebrates, and insect larva. Telltale sign of snipe is a patchwork of 1/8 inch holes in the mud. Once you see these, get ready!

Snipe leverage their camouflage to conceal themselves in the ground cover, often holding tight until you are within a few yards. Once flushed, they erupt with unmatched speed, emitting a Scape sound. They usually go on a short initial straight path followed by notorious zig-zags. A quick shot to get them on the straightaway is advantageous, but all is not lost if you miss. They typically land a short distance away, affording a second (or third) opportunity.

The other common snipe sound you may hear at night is winnowing. During their courtship display of rapid dives with outstretched tail feathers, males produce a hu-hu-hu sound from the vibrations of the feathers.

Hunting opportunities for the Wilson’s snipe

Here’s the great news: snipe hunting is available in every state except Hawaii with generous seasons and bag limits across the board. Whether it’s on the front-end or tail-end, Snipe hunting is a great way to extend and fine-tune your upland and waterfowl hunting seasons. Refer to the table below for a state by state breakdown. Be sure to check your local regulations for updated season dates, licensing info, and non-toxic requirements. If you haven’t yet thought about pursuing this forgotten game bird, then make this the season you redefine your definition of a snipe hunt.

Read: Proper Gear for Snipe Hunting

State2017 – 2018
Season Dates
Bag Limit (Daily/Possession)Website
AlabamaNov 12 – Feb 268 /
AlaskaVaries by unit8 /
ArizonaVaries by unit8 /
ArkansasNov 1 – Feb 158 /
CaliforniaOct 21 – Feb 48 /
ColoradoSep 1 – Dec 168 /
ConnecticutOct 25 – Nov 18
Nov 20 – Dec 9
8 /
DelawareSep 19 – Dec 2
Dec 13 – Jan 13
8 /
FloridaNov 1 – Feb 158 /
GeorgiaNov 15 – Feb 288 /
HawaiiNo Season
IdahoVaries by unit8 /
IllinoisSep 9 – Dec 248 /
IndianaSep 1 – Dec 168 /
IowaSep 2 – Nov 308 / 24
KansasSep 1 – Dec 168 /
KentuckySep 20 – Oct 29
Nov 23 – Jan 28
8 /
LouisianaNov 2 – Dec 3
Dec 16 – Dec 28
8 /
MaineSep 1 – Dec 168 /
MarylandSep 26 – Nov 24
Dec 12 – Jan 27
8 /
MassachusettsSep 1 – Dec 168 /
MichiganSep 1 – Nov 98 /
MinnesotaSep 1 – Nov 68 /
MississippiNov 14 – Feb 288 /
MissouriSep 1 – Dec 168 /
MontanaSep 1 – Dec 168 / 24
NebraskaSep 1 – Dec 168 /
NevadaVaries by unit8 /
New HampshireSep 15 – Nov 148 /
New JerseySep 16 – Dec 308 /
New MexicoOct 14 – Jan 288 /
New YorkSep 1 – Nov 98 /
North CarolinaNov 14 – Feb 288 /
North DakotaSep 15 – Dec 35 / 15
OhioSep 1 – Nov 26
Dec 16 – Jan 4
8 / 24
OklahomaOct 1 – Jan 158 /
OregonVaries by unit8 /
PennsylvaniaOct 14 – Nov 258 /
Rhode IslandSep 1 – Nov 98 /
South CarolinaNov 14 – Feb 288 /
South DakotaSep 1 – Oct 315 / 15
TennesseeNov 14 – Feb 288 /
TexasOct 29 – Feb 128 /
UtahVaries by unit8 /
VermontOct 1 – Nov 148 /
VirginiaOct 6 – Oct 9
Oct 21 – Jan 31
8 /
WashingtonOct 14 – Oct 18
Oct 21 – Jan 28
8 /
West VirginiaSep 1 – Nov 98 /
WisconsinVaries by unit8 /
WyomingSep 1 – Dec 168 / 24

*These dates and limits may be out of date. Check the individual state agency for up-to-date information related to snipe hunting*

View Comments (6)
  • I hunted Wilson Snipe for the first time last year in Central Virginia, I was on a woodcock/quail hunt, when my hunting partner’s dog flushed a small covey and he said shoot and of course I missed, but what a fun bird to hunt, we encountered them on a number of hunts after that first encounter
    Great article thanks

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