What is snipe hunting and where did it originate?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

'Snipe hunting' is a term for a prank or practical joke played upon an unsuspecting person (at his expense, of course!) often a newcomer to a paraticular culture or already "initiated" group. A person will be told, for example, to stand in the woods, make a clucking noise, and then wait for a "snipe" to run wildly into a hunting bag.

Where did the idea begin?There is no one particular origin. Different cultures have different jokes typically played upon naïve people unfamiliar with local culture. Below are some examples of imaginary creatures to be "on the lookout" for:

Scotland - Wild haggis

Switzerland,France, Italy (the Alps) - The dahu

Bavaria - Chamois eggs

Australia - Drop bears

Two synonyms: 'a fool's errand'; 'a wild goose chase'

And if you mean this literally....

A snipe is indeed a type of game bird difficult to hunt. Hunting snipe was practised in both Europe and the United States in the early 1800's, considered "a gentleman's sport" since the amount of game meat from the bird was hardly worth the cost of ammunition to shoot it with!  Unlike the woodcock, the snipe prefers open marshland and prairies to streams and rivers. Nor to be confused with the dowitcher, which gathers in groups in marshlands.

Below is a serious reference concerning this very real (not invented) cousin to the woodcock, with a few photographs. Happy 'hunting!'