Loving The Woodcock
Therefore, so long as I can tramp the woodlands in health and with reasonable safety, I will respect the ‘little russet feller’ whistling through white birches or alders or popples. He will destroy me when the foliage is thick and when I am keyed to the faster flight of a grouse, and he will shoot me down in flames when I get fatuous and consider him an easy mark. Woolner, The Complete Book of Woodcock Hunting, Page 17, The Lyons Press.
The American woodcock provides the upland hunter with many hours of enjoyment in both the spring and the fall. During the late winter and spring months, we anxiously await his return for tuning up our bird dogs after a long winter layoff. It’s a very short window since we don’t want to pressure the birds once they begin laying eggs. However, the fall gives us several weeks of prime upland work for the dogs and fast shooting for the hunter. It’s now fall so this column is all about fall hunting for woodcock.
Being a New Englander, I’m positioned perfectly for the coastal flights coming down from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. That means the entire coastal area of Maine and New Hampshire offer outstanding woodcock shooting. Although Maine and New Hampshire may offer several weeks of shooting, the avid hunter may begin their woodcock hunting in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, Canada. Although I haven’t hunted woodcock in Nova Scotia, I certainly have in New Brunswick. It’s easy to have a 50 flush day in either province.
In Maine and New Hampshire, we have the benefit of both resident woodcock and migrating woodcock. I have covers in Maine where it’s easy to get ten flushes in the morning on just resident birds. Catch the migration and that number easily doubles or triples. Grand Lake Stream, Maine, can give you that kind of action.
Before we get into the actual hunting of the woodcock, I should mention that for the traveling hunter, Michigan offers excellent woodcock hunting. In fact, Michigan has long been the leader in numbers of woodcock harvested in a season. And, the cover is not as thick as New England.
Primarily, woodcock feed on earthworms. With a long prehensile beak, they search deep for the worm. They need soft ground for their search. That means alder runs along a brook or stream are ideal. Young birch or popple growth with a stream is also good. Habitat needs to be thick enough to provide protection from aerial predators but also leave room to run. Unlike the ruffed grouse, the woodcock does not take into consideration their ability to escape via the flush. Many times over the years, I’ve seen woodcock flush in such thick cover that they get caught. I’ve seen woodcock caught primarily in multi-flora rose. I know because I’ve also been caught in it. Habitat for ruffed grouse is divided into two categories, safety and food. For woodcock, feeding and roosting are done in the same habitat. The telltale white splash is a sign that the birds are using an area.
For bird dogs, the pointing dog is used the most often for woodcock. The woodcock has always been loved for holding for the point. However, in the past 15 years, the little rascal is running more. You need a dog that, when relocated due to no bird found, will carefully track and reestablish point when close to the bird. When your dog has a nice solid point, approach your dog from the front. If you pinch the bird, it’s more likely to flush straight up which gives you a better shot. If you approach from behind your dog, the bird will flush straight away through the heavy cover.
A 20 or 28 gauge is perfect for woodcock. Number 9 shot is preferred; however, number 10 shot is great if you can find it. For barrel length, a 26” or 28” work fine. My side x side shotguns are all choked improved cylinder and modified cylinder. If I wanted just a woodcock gun, I would have them choked cylinder/improved cylinder.
The woodcock is a fine eating bird. Google recipes for woodcock and experiment until you find one which works well for your taste buds.
Copyright 2020 Paul Fuller