Photograph by Rebecca Hartness
Unlike a lot of American kids, I never got to go camping with my grandparents, you know, the sort of grandparents with cute, high-waisted khaki shorts and a tent trailer who cook you beans in a lidded pot over an open flame and tell stories. At least that’s how I imagined other kids’ grandparents to be. The only grandparent I knew lived in an old folks’ home and couldn’t hear anything I said, ever, and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a campground. She was the delicate sort.
In fact, I didn’t do much camping at all growing up, much less hunt for something, even though I would have jumped at the chance. So I was especially excited when, on a recent camping trip with Jordan—a guy I’d begun to date a few months before—and his family. I was informed we would be going “snipe hunting.” This was, I thought at the time, ancient hunter-gatherer stuff, a gritty, life-saving skill most people learn from their grandparents and pass on to future generations for the survival of the line. For obvious reasons, I never learned it from mine.
“Have you ever been snipe hunting?” Jordan asked me.
“No, what’s a snipe? I’m from Indiana.”
“Oh!” He seized on my inexperience. “They must not have them in the Midwest. Well, you’ll see.”
I accepted this, and waited all weekend to go snipe hunting. I got more excited about it when I saw how excited Jordan’s six-year-old nephew was, though he made our prey seem a bit less than Sasquatch.
“When we catch the snipe he is going to be so cute and smile at me and be my best friend!” the nephew said.
“That’s cool,” I said. What do you say to kids? His enthusiasm was contagious. I was getting into this camping thing. Stalking snipe would be the icing on the cake.
I learned that on any daring outdoor adventure, especially snipe hunting, it is imperative to load up on nutrients for the big, physically intensive tasks ahead.
On this outing, we were camping at Fort Stevens State Park in northern Oregon, the main military defense at the mouth of the Columbia River until after WWII. Now, this diversified park offered history lessons, views, wildlife, and was loaded with snipes, I was told. Each site came with an area to make campfires, with grates at the ready. Extreme chefs that we were, we planned to wrap our food in aluminum foil and place it directly in the coals to cook, keeping it moist and preventing it from burning by placing a few ice cubes in each aluminum foil wrap job. Move over, Bear Grylls!
The crew I was traveling with were pretty serious foodies, and showed up with everything short of a solar-powered Cuisinart, car camping style. I was in charge of the beer, and was mainly concerned with maintaining an appropriate oatmeal stout-to-marshmallow ratio, as I can always be counted on to comfortably bypass dinner and head straight for dessert. But I also brought along some hoppy IPAs to accent the power of smoky campfired food, and some sessionable wheat beers for daytime drinking while playing a lazy game of badminton or bocce. Fact is, I took my role as Chief Beer Officer to heart: I might not have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, but I can ice a beer to its ideal sipping temperature, thankyouverymuch.
Which is precisely why, Sacagawea-like, I showed my compatriots how to sustain solid day-drinking with an ingenious mix of wheat beer and lemonade, otherwise known as a Shandy. For one, this concoction helps manage one’s blood alcohol content for a big day of adventure and keeps the wilderness-navigating brain at its functional best. Secondly, it can be handy for maintaining stock in case you start to run out of beers—there are no liquor stores in the Oregon woods, even these easy-access preserves. And lastly, the citrusy bevvy pairs swimmingly with the World’s Greatest Trail Mix, a sweet, salty, and tart blend of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips, of course.
Our pre-snipe hunting meal was grilled chicken with tarragon and rosemary, a lean protein ideal for maintaining energy while trekking through the woods. When packing the food, we pre-measured the spices we would need for our meals and stored them in Ziplock bags, which helped keep our load light. Though a light load wasn’t imperative, as we’d brought our cars, this trick is great for backpack campers who have to be conscious of every ounce. Overkill? Maybe. But the chicken was delicious.
As the sun set behind our campsite, the sniping hour was upon us. Jordan’s 11-year-old niece handed me two sturdy sticks about as long as my arm and smooth as ivory that she had found at the beach and kept especially for me. I took them in hand proudly, vowing to be brave.
Minutes later she led the charge for us clappers—those of us who would creep into virgin forest and clap our sticks furiously and mightily, hoping to flush snipes out through the other side of the bushes, where Jordan and his two older brothers were waiting with paper grocery bags to catch them.
After a couple of unsuccessful tries (“Maybe snipes don’t live out here by the coast?” Jordan’s older brother Travis offered), the boys on the other side of the bushes started whooping and hollering on our third try. Jordan came running toward us while we were still clapping our sticks. His paper bag was rolled shut at the top and he was holding it about his head.
“I got one!” he shouted.
On the walk back to base camp I remember thinking that he looked like a young king. His niece and I kept telling him “good job” over and over again, and I asked him how soon it would be until I got to finally see what a snipe was. I love animals, and I love new things—there are lots of plants in Oregon I never saw growing up in Indiana, but I’d never heard of a new animal out here.
“We’ll open the bag back at the campsite,” he beamed. He was smiling, proud of his catch. I was proud, too.
Well, those of you who have grandparents must know that at some point on our walk, Jordan tripped and the snipe escaped. My heart sank.
“But we can try again next time we go camping!” Jordan’s niece announced, unfazed. She knew something I didn’t.
Back at the campsite, Jordan pulled me aside. We looked up at the stars, so clear out in the woods, and he told me that snipe hunting is something many people do with their grandparents as a way to spend quality time together. “But snipes actually always get away,” he said. “Every single time.”
I understood. It was beautifully simple. They were make-believe, like Santa Claus. I felt lucky rather than duped. How often does a 24-year-old get to feel what it was like to be a little girl waiting on Christmas Eve for Santa to come? And in the Oregon woods? Every camping trip should be so green, so new, and so well-supplied with great food and beer.
As for the young king who caught the snipe and let it go, tripping through the woods? He let me go, too. But I’ll remember that hunt, the greatest gift I’d been given in a very long time. And I’m an Oregon girl now: I can camp with the best of ‘em. Is it snipe season yet?
For more, subscribe to Beer West today!