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What’s the secret to snipe shooting?

There's a knack to it, says John Bidwell

Shooting snipe

Jack takes a shot at the snipe that Hugo flushed from the cover

Q: I had never come up against walked-up snipe until I took a shooting holiday to Ireland in December. However I never touched a feather of the little devils. What’s the secret to shooting them? What was I doing wrong? How can I practice?

No clay bird for practice

A: With the possible exception of ZZ (helice) targets that fly erratically after leaving the trap, at the time of writing no clay bird has been invented that behaves in the same way as a snipe flushed off boggy ground by a dog.

The only useful ‘practice’ you can do is to shoot these little birds as often as you can – there’s a definite knack to knocking them down on a reasonably consistent basis.

Zig-zag movement

As you discovered, this little bird zig-zags away as soon as it takes to the wing and it’s impossible to track it with the muzzles in the usual way.

Most shooters can be forgiven for trying to let off a shot as soon as possible – usually trying to judge whether the bird’s going to zig, or zag, when they pull the trigger.

Sometimes they ‘guess’ correctly and the bird and shot pattern converge at the same time. But this doesn’t happen very often.

What usually happens (although it is not always) is that snipe zig-zag two or three times and then take a straighter, rising, flightpath once they reach full speed. So it’s worth ‘holding fire’  for a few seconds. Watch the bird over the muzzles and mount the gun when it stops jinking. The bird will still be in range when it does this.

What ammunition works best?

Other than advising you to ‘hold fire’ the only other advice I can give is to use cartridges loaded with small shot – 8s are perfect.

Snipe are small birds and can escape through the gaps in a pattern of big shot. Number 8s, on the other hand, fill the pattern nicely and carry enough energy to kill cleanly at range.

I hope the above advice makes something of a difference. It’s definitely worth a go next time you are out in the field.