JACKSON, Mississippi — Snipe hunting is the stuff of legends and the mere mention of it draws giggles.
Armed with burlap bags, young hunters are lured into the woods at night by elders to catch the elusive bird. The older hunters then throw rocks in the bushes and make ridiculous sounds to fool their victims into chasing the imaginary quarry.
Better yet, the guides sometimes slip away into the darkness and leave the hunters thinking they are stranded in the woods alone.
For Duncan Russell, 14, of Brandon, snipe hunting is no joke.
"Nobody really believes you until you go hunt and come back with them," Russell said.
And this time of year, that's just what he does.
"We usually wait until after duck season because we hunt them in the shallow parts of the duck holes," Russell said. "We don't want to mess up the duck hunting."
Houston Havens, Waterfowl Program Leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said mud flats, soggy agricultural fields and drawn-down duck holes hold dense populations of snipe this time of year.
These moist areas allow the birds to probe the soil with their long beaks for the invertebrates and insects they feed on. They also provide opportunities for some of the most challenging wing shooting available.
"They're just so fast and they never fly straight," Russell said.
Because of their erratic flight, Russell said it takes a while for hunters to get into the swing of it.
Hunting in the south Delta with his father and brother, Russell said they use decoys that are paper profiles that stand on wire legs.
"A bunch of people don't think they'll decoy," Russell said. "They don't decoy like ducks. They come in fast. Usually 5 or 6 at a time."
When the hunt is over, it's time to enjoy the harvest. Russell said they remove the breasts and marinate them. After that, Russell said they wrap them in bacon and fire up the grill.
"They taste delicious," Russell said. "Almost exactly like a dove."
Despite the challenging shooting and fine eating associated with snipe, few take advantage of them.
"There are just a handful of die-hard wing shooters that hunt snipe in February," Havens said. "The numbers are very, very low."
Havens said that many hunters are burned out after duck season or concentrate on light geese. With energy typical of a teenager, Russell shows no sign of burning out after duck season.
"It's kind of like a tradition to me," Russell said. "Getting a small shore bird like that to decoy — it's really fun."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com