Thursday, April 05, 2018

A good old fashioned Orange County snipe hunt!

We've all heard of the snipe hunt: The time-honored camping tradition where a hapless victim is given a bag or pillow case and sent out into the night to crouch among brush and make strange “snipe calls” to lure the wily snipe. Eventually, the poor sap figures out he’s waiting to catch an imaginary animal while everyone else is back at camp laughing their butts off. This hazing tradition goes back at least to the 1840s.

But the truth is, snipe are REAL, they’re a type of bird, and Orange County’s got ‘em! In 1893 – the same year he founded the San Joaquin Gun Club and a few years before founding Bolsa Chica Gun Club, Count Jasco Jaro von Schmidt described our ample snipe supply: "The English snipe … the delight of the gourmand, is found in great numbers all over the artesian belt district of the county. Last season I bagged, near Westminster, seventy-on English snipe in one day.”

The Count was well known for exaggerating his hunting prowess, so take that for what it’s worth. But even bagging a single snipe is no mean feat, as they tend to fly in an erratic corkscrew pattern. An 1888 article about English snipe in Punch magazine stated, "All sportsmen desire to be considered good snipe shots, because he is the hardest bird in the world to hit. I mean to hit with shot fired out of a shotgun. I think a good player could hit one with a base-ball bat, because the bird flies much after the manner of the erratic curved ball of the moderns."
English Snipe lithograph,  Currier & Ives, circa 1871 Courtesy Library of Congress
Further research shows that the English Snipe is also known as Wilson's Snipe or the Jacksnipe. It can still be found among the grassy sand hills of Orange County’s wetlands, albeit in much smaller numbers than in the Count’s day.

“Santa Ana marksman Ed Vaughn made a living shipping [snipe] to San Francisco,” wrote Jim Sleeper in his second Orange County Almanac of Historical Oddities. “One time he asserted, ‘They didn’t want me to [gut] them, as epicures considered the entrails the choicest part of the bird’ – which says a lot about the people of San Francisco.”

Sleeper goes on to point out that Gabe Allen’s place (now Estancia Park in Costa Mesa) was a popular spot for snipe hunting. Why don’t you head up there with a pillow case and a stick some night, and see if you can nab a few? I hear if you crouch in the brush and make a loud “kikery-KEE!” noise over and over again, it really brings ‘em running.
"English Snipe" chromolithograph by A. B. Frost, circa 1895

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