Speaking as a lifelong upland bird hunter, with over 25 years of guiding and upland clients over our pointing dogs, woodcock have become what I call funny little buggers. For starters, an upland bird biologist told me years ago that a woodcock’s brain is upside down and backwards, and that are our slowest – flying game bird! Right off the bat, these facts tell me several things; first with their brain positioned as it is, they likely don’t know what they are going to do next, so how in hell am I supposed to figure out where to shoot? The business about them flying so slowly absolutely impacts one of my major excuses for rarely hitting them with a charge of birdshot. They always seem to be blowing out of the alders like rockets, making them tough for anyone to hit, and forget the fact that they supposedly come straight up, then zoom off. Most of the woodcock that I have come into contact with apparently didn’t read that book!
On the other hand, they do have these unusual mannerisms and habits. Their spring mating ritual consists of the males peeping loudly when flying straight up into the air, followed by a helicopter-like decent to the earth.
I should think that this would be exhausting to say the least, and counterproductive to woodcock whoopee! Yet they seem to thrive in the face of civilizations continued encroachment into their habitat, with humans insisting on building houses right smack in the middle of my favorite woodcock covers! Woodcock are worm eaters so any area holding alders, and south-facing poplar slope and wet earth is heaven to these great little birds. Until about 20 years ago, you could pretty much count on woodcock holding tightly when a upland dog was nearing them. But…all of a sudden, points that indicated that the bird was moving ahead of our dog, which were typically grouse, seemingly overnight, became woodcock. The little buggers finally figured it out and the game changed, to their advantage. So this fall Lila, Riffle (our seventy six pound elephant disguised as a black lab), and I will again take up the chase for these little buggers. I find these days that I don’t hit as many as I once did: I am sure that it is because they are flying much faster than in earlier years! When I miss a woodcock this fall, I’ll do what I have always done; offer a figurative tip of my hat and reload!
Next Month…Putting up tree stands