A snipe hunt
, a form of wild goose chase
that is also known as a fool's errand
, is one of a class of practical jokes
that involves experienced people making fun of newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe
as well as a usually ridiculous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. Incidentally, the snipe
(a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word "sniper
" is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.
A wild goose chase can also be more serious, either a deliberate attempt to thwart an opponent by sending him/her off on a quest based on misinformation, or a mistake on one's own part leading to a hopeless quest.
A fool's errand is a task that cannot be accomplished because of fate or because it is a joke. It comes mainly in two varieties: trying to find something that does not exist, or trying to accomplish an impossible task. Others who are aware of the prank will often redirect the victim to several different places.
The prank often involves the use of jargon, where the immediate meaning is not obvious. It can also depend on a new recruit's unfamiliarity with the business.
- Homonyms: long stand, long weight (wait), or a long felt want.
- Impossible items: a length of WLAN cable for wireless LAN, dehydrated water.
- Imaginary or pointless items: left-handed smoke shifter, a current brush for electrical outlets, a plinth ladder, Turboencabulator.
- Machinery parts that sound real, but if considering the actual machine, cannot exist: muffler bearings, piston return spring or headlight fluid.
- Tools that do not exist, such as left-handed versions of achiral tools (wrench, hammer, or screwdriver), or tools made out of unlikely materials such as hammers made of glass.
- Fetching a quantity of something that can't be contained, e.g. a bucket of vacuum, steam, prop wash or sparks (especially sparks from a grinder).
Many regions have a cryptid
or imaginary being used as a snipe hunt. In Bavaria
, tourists were taken on extended expeditions to search for chamois
eggs, or on all-night Wolpertinger
stakeouts. In Scotland, tourists are told about the wild haggis
hunts, while in the Western United States
, they may be warned about the savage jackalope
. In Australia
, foreigners may be warned to remain alert for drop bears
, mythical creatures that are a popular joke amongst the locals. In Wyoming
, natives warn tourists to watch out for rattlesnake
eggs (Rattlesnakes don't lay eggs; they give birth to live offspring).
In France, in Switzerland and in the north of Italy, particularly in mountains like the Alps or the Jura Mountains, tourists are sent to hunt the "dahu", an imaginary mammal whose left legs are shorter than its right legs, so that it can walk easily along a mountain slope. A practical way to hunt the beast is to call him from the back: it turns around and falls, because of its long legs on the top and his short legs on the bottom.
- The Little Red Book of Firehouse Pranks by Jeff Hibbard (ISBN 0-9667810-0-7)