Breathless, the group bounded through the woods toward the snipe-rich area surrounding the lake in the distance. It was just after dusk, and the only light besides a rapidly fading glow to the west was provided by the small penlights they each held gripped in their sweaty hands. Little Jimmy had never been snipe-hunting before, and his excitement was almost palpably apparent as the flickering web of knowing looks shot each other by the bigger boys over Jimmy's head. The leader halted them with a silent hand-signal, and then they began to move forward in a silent creep. Finally, the place was right.

The leader stationed Jimmy at a narrow part of the trail between two bushes. A large burlap sack was handed to him in return for his penlight by another boy, and he was silently molded into a squatting position with the bag stretched across the trail between the shrubs.

"They'll run right in when we scare 'em and you just scoop 'em up! the leader whispered into Jimmy's ear quietly.

Then silently they began to meld into the dark woods to either side. Jimmy smiled as he thought of the picture of a snipe he was shown on the lid of an old shoe polish can. The little quail-like bird with a tuft of feathers on its head. As the muffled sounds of the rest of the hunting party faded away, the surrounding insects began retuning to resume their symphonic collaberation. As the wild sound rose, the tree frogs joined in with a pulsating buzz, and the woods resumed its primal activity.

Tens of minutes passed, and Jimmy began to shift side to side to delay the numbness creeping up his feet to his ankles. He hadn't heard the yells and beating of bushes that had been described by the experienced hunters - perhaps they were casting a wider net in order to bag more snipes. More time passed, and he finally sat down, trying to keep the bag in relatively the same position. Maybe they were chasing the snipe down the wrong trail. As another quarter hour passes, the urgency to do something - anything - grew in Jimmy's thoughts. He stood and peered through the surrounding darkness for any hint of the penlights the other boys carried, but only the dim reflection of starlight from the closest leaves was visible in the moonless night. Finally, he could stand the isolation no longer. Dropping the bag, he cupped his hands to his mouth. First quietly, then louder and louder he raised his voice.

"Guys? Guys? Hey guys - where are you? Where are the snipes?"

The snipe hunt in the region of the southwest where I was raised took a traditional form that went back at least two generations. The unlucky victim was fed glorious stories of the legendary snipe hunts of old. The snipes with their tasty meat and valuable tuft-feathers were described in desirable terms, and perhaps an old picture of an alleged snipe (usually not even a bird of the real species) was passed around. One the hook was set in the mind of the victim, the burlap sack was fortuitously "found" in a tent, and a snipe-hunting party was found.

The party left the camp and circle round and round until the initiate was thoroughly disoriented, and then he was positioned at a trailhead or narrow gap between bushes and told to wait for the hundreds of snipe sure to herd themselves right into his bag. He was to snap them up and yell, at which point his imagination had already taken over and shown him visions of riding back to camp on the team's shoulders a hero. As the rest of the team left, ostensibly to beat the bushes for snipe, but really to return to camp to laugh and jeer at the poor victim's misfortune, one hunter was usually left behind to sneak off a short distance and wait until the panic was apparent in the victim's voice, then lead him back to the camp in humiliating disgrace, fully initiated, and now ready to be one of the rest of the hunting team on the next snipe hunt.

Sometimes they didn't leave a guide behind.