The quest for an imaginary forest-dwelling animal.
Snipes are imaginary animals who form the basis of a popular practical joke and maintain an enduring presence in North American camping folklore.
If you've ever spent time at a summer camp or gone camping with a troop of boy scouts in the United States or Canada, chances are good you've participated in a snipe hunt – either willingly as a perpetrator or unwillingly as a victim. Snipe hunts are simple pranks pulled on unsuspecting newcomers to drum up cheap scares and laughs.
Going on a Snipe Hunt
Snipe hunts begin when a group leads a hunter to a spot in the woods at night and gives them a large bag or pillowcase. The hunter receives instructions to make odd noises to draw a snipe from its hiding place. Other group members retreat, promising to flush out the snipe and chase it toward the hunter. The rest of the group merely returns to camp, leaving the hunter alone in the dark to eventually figure out they have been tricked and left holding an empty bag or pillowcase.
Wild descriptions of a snipe are shared with the would-be hunter to set the stage for the prank. Snipes can take any shape or form that suits the purposes of the prank. Descriptions can include creatures who resemble variations of birds, snakes, rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals. Sometimes, a snape can take the form of a deer-like creature or other larger animals. The goal is to drum up fear and get adrenaline pumping before turning the victim of the prank loose in the woods.
Snipe hunts can include a variation that targets multiple victims instead of a single hapless individual. In this variation, pranksters return to the campsite with a bag or pillowcase containing a captured snipe after a successful group hunt. The hunters play up the danger posed by the captured snipe and then it manages to escape unseen from the bag – sparking fearful reactions from victims of the prank huddled around a campfire.
Snipe Hunt origins
Evidences of snipe hunts in North America date back to the 1840s. Snipe hunts gained popularity with boy scout troops and at summer camps in the early 20th century. This activity functions as a rite of passage where older campers mock newcomers before accepting them into the wider group. The central idea driving a snipe hunt is a desire to trick a victim into going on a fool's errand or wild goose chase. It is ultimately designed to embarrass or ridicule them over their naivety.
Variations of the snipe hunt exist outside North America. In France, Hunting the Dahut is a popular practical joke. Participants hunt a dahu – a legendary creature said to resemble a mountain goat that allegedly inhabits France as well as parts of Switzerland and Italy. Spain has gamusino hunts. The gamusino is an imaginary animal with no defined description.
Ironically, snipe is a term for a genus of 26 bird species that inhabit marshlands and can be found throughout the world. Hunting these types of birds is quite difficult because of their erratic flight patterns and ability to camouflage in marshland. The military term sniper arose originally to describe hunters skilled in marksmanship in regards to bagging species of snipe birds.
Very interesting read. Not a fan of these sorts of pranks tbh. 😔