Although there is such a bird as a snipe, the “snipe hunt” is a practical joke played on new members of a group, such as new campers. The newbies are sent out with bags to capture the “snipe,” which is driven toward them by the older kids, who make noises to frighten the animal. It is best played in the woods at night, if safe. When the new kids return without a snipe, left “holding the bags,” those in the know have a good laugh and explain the joke.
In July, after finishing fourth grade, Tim and his best friend, Tom, got to go to scout camp for two weeks. A few days after they arrived, they and several other new campers were chosen as snipe hunters, with other, older campers chosen to make noises to drive the snipe toward these hunters.
“What does a snipe look like?” Tim asked his counselor.
“A bit like a medium-size dog, but scarier.”
When it got dark, Tim and Tom and fellow hunters set off down a wooded trail, each carrying a large plastic garbage bag.
Other campers got spoons and hit pots and pans and made other noises. The counselors flashed their flashlights, too. Once the hunters were too far to hear them, the chasers laughed out loud among themselves.
When Tim and Tom were getting tired and discouraged, Tim’s flashlight beam hit something. It was a dog, not a snipe, a hunting dog, a Beagle, caught by its collar on the wire of a barbed-wire fence.
The boys got the dog calmed down and were able to get it free from the fence. They twisted their garbage bag to make a kind of rope, and put it through the dog’s collar to make a leash. They forgot all about the snipe.
They turned around and headed back toward the camp, toward the sounds that the others were making.
“Hey, everybody, we found something!” Tom yelled.
“Don’t tell me you’ve caught a snipe,” their counselor yelled back.
“Something better. A dog!” Tim replied.
When they returned to the campfire, their counselor explained the snipe hunt joke to them. No one was laughing, though.
That evening, the camp called local veterinarians and found the owner of the missing dog. He had offered a reward for finding it, and he came to the camp and split the reward money between Tim and Tom, who were quite pleased.
When the boys came home from camp, Tim told the story of the snipe hunt to his family. They said he was brave to go after an unknown animal deep in the woods, even if it turned out to be a joke.
Courage can have unexpected rewards. “Sometimes, when you search for one thing, you find something else worth having,” his mother said.
Rick patted Tim on the back, “There is a saying that ‘he who laughs last, laughs best,’ and you and Tom did get the last laugh.”
One of our series of 50 such instructive short stories.