Several rail species migrate through Missouri every year, including yellow, Virginia, sora, black, and king rails. Virginia and sora rails are the only two species that may be harvested, and sora is the most abundant of these. Rails are predominantly marsh birds and can be seen and heard on many wetland conservation areas lurking in thick vegetation. Rails are omnivores and eat a wide variety of plants, insects, snails, and crayfish with their long bill made for probing in moist soils.
The common snipe is aptly named, because it is common in Missouri’s wetlands and soggy areas. This marsh bird uses its long bill to probe for insects, worms, and larvae that burrow in damp soil.
Rails and snipe are a challenge to hunt. When flushed, these birds only fly a short distance and dive back into vegetative cover. Once back on the ground, the birds run quickly and are very hard to flush a second time. During peak migration, sora rails are abundant and will react to loud sounds such as a car door slamming or single, loud hand claps. Sora rails have several calls including a descending "whinny," a "ker-wee" sound, and a call that sounds like "weep." Snipe calls are a repeated "chip." The call of the Virginia rail sounds like pig-like grunts, "kid-dik."
Rail and snipe hunting opportunities are very limited by weather, especially precipitation. Due to dry conditions this summer, opportunities may be limited at some wetland conservation areas this fall. Contact the area manager at the areas you are interested in hunting before making a trip.
A shotgun, preferably a 20 gauge, loaded with #7 ½ or #8 lead shot, #7 if using steel, and a pair of hip waders is all the gear needed to hunt rails and snipe. A Small Game Hunting permit and a Migratory Bird Hunting permit is required. If hunting on Department public lands, be sure to consult the Migratory Bird and Waterfowl Hunting Digest for a list of conservation areas requiring non-toxic shot.
Hunting snipe is challenging, as they rarely fly straight and are quick to find cover. Hunting rails is a little easier as they tend to fly low and slow and in a much less erratic pattern. Either way, you need a good eye. It is rare to spot them while they are on the ground. When they flush, focus on the bird and not on your gun. Trying to aim the barrel is not a good thing to do when wing shooting and will all but guarantee a miss. Looking at your barrel to aim or gauge your lead will cause you to stop your swing and shoot behind or under the bird nearly every time.
A flock of snipe is called a wisp.
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