This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
The first game shooting after the winter is over, is that of the English or Wilson's snipe As soon as the frost is out of the ground, snipe may be hunted in low wet places and meadow swamps. Here they may be found resting for a time before going further north to their breeding places. When first arrived, they are wild and shift constantly from place to place; sometimes they fly in knots of 10 or 20 birds, and rise high, soaring and departing out of sight. No other sport depends more upon the state of the weather than this; nor is any other more uncertain, on account of the errratic and capricious nature of these birds. The most promising conditions for sport are the clearing of a violent storm into soft, warm weather, the partial drying np of the early spring floods, and the blowing of a warm, south-westerly breeze. Rough weather disturbs the conditions, and shooting then will be a matter of great uncertainty. At times, snipe will lie in uplands, fallow fields, grassy meadows, and even in woodlands; while in the marshes one may find plenty of borings and droppings, but not a bird. Sometimes one cannot choose, and having come to shoot, must do the best he can.
Then, even in rough squally weather, birds may be found about springs and muddy pools, surrounded by brakes and briers, or tall alders, or high bunches of marsh grass or reeds. Thus the sportsman who is after snipe, to succeed in his aims, must know the character of his game and the ins and outs of its curious disposition.
A dark day, a drizzly day, or a windy, is not favorable to sport, unless the wind is from the south or west and not too high. A mild, soft, hazy, sunshiny day, with a gentle south breeze, is just the day for snipe. It may be hot, and if the air is damp, and the breeze gentle, the birds will lie the closer for it, and on such a day their flight is lazy and they will drop often within a few yards of the dog that has flushed them. Then there are no easier birds to kill; all that has to be done is to let them get away a fair distance, so as to allow for the shot to spread, then cover the bird well before the trigger is touched, all the time taking things coolly and deliberately.
Snipe nearly always rise against and go away up-wind, as closely as possible; consequently the mode of beating for this game is different from that used for any other. It is generally the practice to beat down-wind, and the ground is to be entered from the windward instead of from the leeward as for all other game. If this is not possible, the ground must be beaten diagonally, and all the most likely spots, approached by a circuit so as to come on the windward side of it. If the dog points, the sportsman must make a circuit around so as to get the bird, down-wind of him, and for this reason it is very necessary to have a steady dog.
For young sportsmen, a pointer is recommended, but for old and practised sportsmen, a setter is preferred. When the birds are plentiful, a dog is not necessary, as they lie to a man alone, as well as to a man with a dog; but if the ground to be beaten is wide, and the birds few, the help of a dog is needed. A dog must be stanch as well as steady, and should be immovable on his point; he must not crawl in or approach the bird, but must remain stiff, even though the shooter may have to make a circuit and come round facing him. He must be trained to obey the hand. He must follow at heel when called in, without attempting to beat until ordered. This is a great point in snipe-shooting, for a bird will lie close to a man after having been marked down, when it would flush wide of a dog; and when marked down, a snipe can always be found because it never runs more than a few feet from the spot where it alighted. By going down-wind on the game, the sportsman forces the bird to go away to the right or left hand, as it tries to fly up-wind and thus afford a side shot. The moment to deliver the shot is when the snipe poises itself after first rising, and before it gets under way.
It is then almost motionless for an instant, and if it rises 15 yards from the gun - and it seldom rises nearer - this is the time to shoot. As the snipe flies quickly, it is necessary to aim the gun a foot ahead of him at 20 yards, and at 40 yards three feet space should be allowed.
In the fall of the year their is less uncertainty in the habits of the birds, and they are neither so wild nor unsteady as in the spring.