Two of our favorite pastimes in my preteen and early teen years were cow tipping and snipe hunting. It was a past time for the country since everyone knew that snipe don’t live in the city and most cities have ordinances that forbid keeping livestock within the city limits.
I had a good friend; Charlie, the frog, so named because of his resemblance to, you guessed it—a frog. Charlie’s daddy had a dairy farm just on the outskirts of town and ran a 80 or head of cows. It was a short bicycle ride to the dairy where there were plenty of cows from which to choose.
On Friday or other non-school nights we would gather around dusk dark and ride out to the farm. There were always a couple of guys or gals that had never had the excitement of cow tipping so we would invite one or two along for the evening’s activities. The novices were sworn to secrecy on fear of being covered in blue paint—(the color of cowards) who couldn’t keep secrets. We actually had to paint little Jimmy Johnson for breaking the code of silence. No one ever let the secret slip after that fateful evening.
Anyway, as I was saying, we gathered around dusk dark and off we would go, the excitement building as we rounded each curve. It was pretty dark when we arrived at the dairy and by that time, Charlie the Frog would have picked out the objects for the evening’s fun. The larger the cow the better it would be. The best evenings were when the moon was full or nearly so which gave us enough light to see what we were doing. Actually we needed the light to keep from stepping right in the middle of a big old cow paddy.
Quietly and slowly, we headed out to the pasture and gathered near the sleeping cow. Now understand that cows, when sleeping, can lock their knees so they don’t fall over, but the locked knees make tipping possible because they can’t react quickly as they are falling over.
When we were all gathered, the first task was to paint the cow a bluish purple of a purplish blue. This had to be done with great care so as not to startle the cow. We painted the cow so that we could point her out as the victim of our stunt. “Just ride by the Pogue Dairy when the cows are at pasture and the one that is bluish purple is the victim,” we would say.
Next one of us experienced tippers would pair up with a novice, (cows are large so it generally took 2 people to push one over). We approached the cow from one side or the other, being sure that there were no stumps or big rocks the cow could fall on when she fell over. Then the two of us would place our hands about midway along the cow’s side and push. A quick push simply wouldn’t work since the cow would rebound to the upright position, if she wasn’t pushed past her center of gravity. Rather, it took a slow and steady push continuing to push as she went over.
The poor old cow would hit the ground with a thump, startling her awake. She would then moo, struggle to her feet and take off at a fast run. We always tried to choose a cow on the periphery of the herd so she wouldn’t startle the others and start a stampede. If we were careful and quiet we could tip two or three cows on cow tipping night.
Nights when we couldn’t go cow tipping we went snipe hinting, which was nearly as fun and there was no danger of being stomped by stampeding cows. No one ever heard of snipe running in herds. The very best times for getting good sized snipe is in late spring and early summer and then in late summer and early fall. The best size for eating was when the snipe has grown to 2-3 pounds. Snipe can’t fly so their breast meat is the very best. It is white, very tender and tastes sorta like chicken, but it isn’t chicken.
The object of snipe hunting is to catch a snipe in a brown paper sack. Plastic bags simply won’t work since the snipe are repelled when you rub the bag causing a buildup of static electricity. Snipe are funny looking birds with long beaks and moderately long legs. They roam around in the woods at night looking for small critters they can spear with their long beaks and then with a flip of the head, the snipe catches the potential meal in its mouth and swallows it. Snipe have a pretty easy life since no other animals predate them because they give off a god awful stink when threatened and then vomit and poop on anything foolish enough to mess with them.
We would find a nice, flat spot, build a campfire, and then gather the novices around. One of the most fun things about snipe hunting is that you can take several novices, not just one, or two. Each novice is given a brown paper sack and shown the precise way to open it; hold it between their legs, and gently stroke it along the side. Even though we can’t hear the ultra-high frequency that stroking the bag generates, the snipe certainly can and if any are near they come running. When the snipe sees the open mouth of the bag, they think it is their nest hole and run right in. Then quickly you close the mouth of the bag and you’ve got it. Now comes the tricky part. Unless you hold the bag just right, the snipe, if realizing it is caught will start to vomit and poop. Keep the bag flat, moving it gently and the snipe soon, feeling secure, will go to sleep.
When the snipe is in a deep sleep, you can gently open the bag, reach in and quickly grab the snipe by the beak, then you rapidly move to the chopping block and with a good strong whack with a hatchet separate the head from the body. It is important to immediately hang the snipe by its feet to a nearby branch so it can bleed out. One of the grosses things of which I am aware is trying to eat a snipe that has not been thoroughly bled. Unlike chickens, dove and other game birds, plucking the snipe is quite easy. Run your index finger of your right hand between the skin and the meaty part of the neck. As you do this, you push gently with your finger while rotating it around the neck, holding the body of the bird with the left hand. Soon the skin begins to separate from the body and then you can remove the rest of the skin and feathers just like taking off a sock. This needs to be done quickly since the next step is important. The minute the skin is removed you need to remove the entrails. Snipe become rancid quickly if the entrails aren’t quickly removed without spilling any intestinal contents.
Prepare the Dutch oven which is a cast iron pot with 3-4 three inch legs. The lid is made with a ridge around the top so that coals can be placed on it without sliding off. Fill the Dutch oven ¾ o0f the way full with water adding new potatoes, baby carrots, sliced onion, salt and pepper to suit your taste. Now sit the Dutch oven over hot coals and wait for the water to come to a rolling boil.
Dust the snipe thoroughly inside and out with Uncle Homer’s Spiced Mountain Oysters (Uncle Homer’s Spiced Mountain Oysters are sheep testicles which have been dried over an open hickory fire, then when thoroughly dried they are ground with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cumin, thyme, coriander, crushed black pepper, and dried smoked cracked corn). It can generally be found on a lower shelf under the cash register covered with a denim cloth since it is illegal to sell, supposedly because there are no health criterion from which to determine its safety for human consumption. It can be hard to find unless you have to hire a local to make the purchase until you establish yourself as a regular in town. If you are fortunate enough to know a moonshiner, they usually have it available, or maybe even a Watkins Product salesman. Uncle Homer’s Spiced Mountain Oysters is not part of the Watkins line, but you know how salespeople are.
When the Snipe are prepared drop them into the boiling water, put the lid on the Dutch oven, place a goodly pile of hot ashes to cover the lid and then wait. It takes about12 hours for the snipe to be cooked to full tenderness and for the spices to fully permeate the meat. When the snipe is fully cooked it can be plated on a bed of poke salad with the juice from cooking drizzled over the whole thing. This is an important step since poke salad is poisonous unless treated properly. Add several slices of Colonial white bread, no other bread works as well, and you have a meal fit for a king. One snipe will feed two people quite adequately.
This is a wonderful outdoor event for friends and neighbors to share in the excitement of a hunt followed by the gratification that comes with fellowship over a meal that you caught and cooked over an open fire.
Author’s note: With all the tension in the air over the political situation, I thought a bit of levity might be just the ticket.
Copyright, 2012, Jack deJarnette