The Snipe Hunt by Gary Benton
I can remember a hunting trip I went on when I was a kid that still brings a laugh to me. See, it was my first snipe hunt and yep, I mean first snipe hunt.
I guess I was about ten years old and the night was cold, but most January’s are in the Midwest. I gave a shudder as I pulled my coat hood up and over my head. It had started to snow and the trail was harder to see now than it had been four hours earlier when we first arrived. I was standing on a less than slightly used trail in the middle of the Missouri Ozark Mountains with my cousin and best friend, Bubba Lee. Both of us were bent over at the waist holding open a pillowcase on the trail, hoping our game (snipe) would run into the open bags. But, we’d been standing for hours like that and not only had we not seen a snipe; we’d not even heard one.
Finally, Bubba stood and moaned as he said, “This heah snipe huntin’ ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, is it?” Staying bent over as I’m a die-hard hunter and ready for the invisible game to appear, I replied, “I personally don’t care for it much, ‘cause it’s too slow.” I noticed the snowflakes were larger now, about the size of a quarter. The wind had picked up a bit and I was chilled to the bone. Now, I come from a family of hunters and to quit a hunt just because I was a little uncomfortable would bring some terrible results. Oh, most would be in the form of teasing, but farm people tease their own ruthlessly. I knew the teasing would be real rough if I returned early just because it was cold. “Bubba Lee, you feelin’ sick?” I asked, knowing sickness would be a good excuse to return to the campsite. “Nope, just hungry.” Came a quick response from my over weight cousin.
It was at that point I had an idea, “Bubba, I bet there is still some ham and beans and apple pie left at the campsite.” Bubba didn’t answer me right off, but I could see his outline against the snow-covered hillside behind him and he was thinkin’. Now, when that boy got to thinkin’, it always scared me. He sure could come up with some strange ideas at times, like the time we played tag with an electric fence or the time he put a dead copperhead snake in grandpa’s bed. His humor was as warped as his normal thinkin’, so I had to keep the reigns tight on him when I was near.
“Well, I’ve had ‘nough,” Bubba said, as he dropped his pillow case in the freshly fallen snow, “This snipe huntin’ ain’t fer me. We been out here fer hours and I ain’t seen any critter, let alone a snipe. The weather is too bad and everybody knows game don’t move when the weathers rough.” Well, that made my day, ‘cause now if anybody said anything, I could always blame going back early on Bubba Lee. I gave a twisted grin and replied, “Yep, any game ‘round here is likely to be bedded down and won’t be moving much, so let’s head back to the campsite.”
A lot of folks might have gotten turned around with it being dark and with snow falling, but we knew that area like most folks know their living rooms. It was when we neared the campsite that I noticed the fire was blazing well. Now, I knew if all of us were out hunting snipes, like we were suppose to be, that fire should have burned down to the coals by then and would not be blazing. As we neared the fire, I heard my Uncle Ben say with a loud laugh, “Red, I’ll bet ya a dollar them boys are still out in this cold waiting fer us to drive them snipes to ‘em.” Red laughed and hit his right knee with his right hand and replied, “Yep, we shore pulled the wool over them two. They’ll be as mad as a wet hen sittin’ on a electric fence when they find out they ain’t no such thing as snipes.”
Well, when Bubba Lee heard Uncle Red say that, ya know, about there not really being snipes, he got madder than all get out. I had to pull him away from the campsite and deeper into the woods. Once I was out of hearing distance from the camp, I suddenly had me an idea and I explained it to my chubby cousin. We both turned away from the camp and started a beeline for home. Now, it was only about three miles as a crow flies, but we knew a short cut and we most likely cut a good mile off that distance. Sure, it was dark and snowing, but we knew every tree, rock, and snake within a ten-mile circle around our farm. The key was to get home before our Uncles did.
It was just after sunrise, or what would have been sunrise if it had not still been snowing, when I heard Uncle Bens old beat up pickup pull up in the driveway. As I heard it backfire, when my uncle cut the ignition, I looked over at Bubba and grinned. A few minutes later I could hear both men stomping the snow from their boots before then entered the house. Bubba and I ran to the kitchen and got things ready. I heard the front door open and close with a loud bang, followed almost immediately by Red saying to my mother, “Edna, we looked all over fer them boys and we cain’t find ‘em. As soon as we warm up a bit, we’ll go back out.” Mom laughed and replied, “They’re in the kitchen Red and they been home for hours.”
Both of the men walked into the kitchen with mean looks on their faces. Ben stopped by the stove and asked, “Why didn’t you boys tell us you were going home? We been out in the cold a-lookin’ for ya all night.” Well, I knew that was a lie, but I couldn’t say anything back to an adult, so instead I said, “Didn’t you get the note we left on the windshield of the truck? It said the weather had gone bad so we had returned home.” Both men just looked at each other with a dumb look on their faces and then Red said, “Nope, we just cleared off the snow on the drivers side and ya know the wipers don’t work on the left side, so it’s most likely still stuck to the winder.”
“Well, have a seat fellers.” Bubba spoke with a big smile on his face and his eyes were dancing with mirth. “W . . . Why?” Uncle Ben asked as he looked around the kitchen. I opened the oven door on the stove and pulled out a roasting pan with six small birds cooking in the center of it. Immediately I could smell the spices and the aroma of the roasted meat. Uncle Red was the first to recover as he asked, “What kind of birds are them?” I lifted the heavy roasting pan and placed it on the stove as I replied, “Snipe, Uncle Red, Bubba and I caught six of ‘em last night.” My two old Uncles threw a glance at each other and I could see deep shock in Red’s eyes. He was trying to figure out how we could have caught, cleaned and cooked six birds that didn’t exist in Missouri. At that point he was one confused man. “Come over to the table and let’s eat these birds!” Bubba commanded as he pulled out and chair and sat down.
All through the meal my Uncles kept asking us questions about the birds, how did we catch ‘em, how fast were they, how many ran down the trail at once, and so on. Both of the men commented on how great the small birds tasted and how much they enjoyed the meal. Red even thought they tasted like turkey.
Finally, after the birds were nothing but a small pile of bones on each plate, Ben looked over at me and asked, “Will you guys take me and Red snipe huntin’ tonight?” It took all I had to not laugh as I said, “Sure Uncle Red, sure. But, it all depends on the weather, ‘cause I think these little birds love snow.”
I guess most of ya will want to know if we took my Uncles snipe hunting that night, but that’s a different story. You know, that hunt happened more than thirty years ago and Bubba lee and I still laugh about it at times when we’re sharing a meal. It is amazing what two young boys, two old men, and six frozen Cornish Game Hens can add to a person’s hunting memories.