Highlighting the cooperative and welcoming nature of a truly amazing little bird.
We were wrapping up the afternoon, myself and hunting partner, also Mike, winding our way through likely cover on our rough course back to the truck. We each had a handful of chances at birds, my partner had brought one to hand. I was new to this, well, not new to woodcock, but new to southern, migratory woodcock.
Trade aspen and alder thickets for creek bottoms lined with pines so thick they block out the sun and you’re in the money. We stood at one of the creek’s offshoots overlooking a stand of mature hardwoods, mostly open with an occasional vine choked patch. After making the hop over, we re-loaded our guns, and not 20 yards away Mike’s rescued German wirehaired pointer, Ella, was hard on point. I was already moving. Ella had demonstrated her nose several times earlier in the day and I knew she had a doodle pinned. Mike circled wide, and as he came into position, he saw the bird. I was focused intently waiting on the flush, but Mike called me over to him instead. He remembered my comment earlier that afternoon about not yet experiencing the sight of dog and pointed bird in one still moment.
We got the bird, well, Mike did. But I took away a lot more from that encounter than just a woodcock in the bag, or the sight of Ella’s nose six feet away from the bird huddled in a viney thorn fortress.
Woodcock’s Cooperative Nature
During that hunt in January I was able to see with my own two eyes a dog living to its fullest potential, showing its hardwired desire to point wild birds. And, that wild bird sat just as still as the dog until I walked it up. How many other upland birds can you walk up almost off the tip of your boot?
For those of us with pointing dogs, does it get any better than seeing your dog on point? I can think of a lot of retrieves that are stored in my memory bank, but none of them seem to make the heart beat quicker than the sight of a dog on point.
Much has been said about the gentleman bobwhite and his ability to show off a dog, typically holding tightly for point. Unlike those wile roosters or the king grouse that often make such good use of their feet. In many regions, woodcock are often referred to as a by-product, a side to the entree if you will. More and more that is not the case here in the south with the bobwhite’s sharp decline. And shame on us for overlooking them.
There are still plenty of bird hunters here in the Southeast, many lamenting the loss of quail. It’s time to shift focus to what once was considered a bonus bird while quail hunting, and make woodcock a primary pursuit. With that, what a perfect opportunity to make an impact in the recent push for recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) efforts. For those who have access to them, woodcock are an excellent option for a mentored hunt.
Gateway to the Uplands
Think about it. Who is that person that always asks you about hunting. The person who asks about your plans for the weekend ahead or your success from the weekend past. Maybe they’ve even said they want to go sometime. They are curiously cracking the door open. Wouldn’t a dog hard on point, and a bird at their feet rocketing up and whiffle-balling through the trees kick that door wide open? Perhaps someone comes to mind. They could even be someone you’ve connected with on social media, at a dog club or the shooting range.
With summer training season well underway we have an under-rated portion of our season at hand. Running bird dogs on wild birds (when and where allowed) or on pen-raised birds is a great way to get the dogs in shape and tuned up for the season. Why not take someone else along with you? Bring a camera too. How often do you get photos of your dog staunchly pointing wild birds, perhaps with the bird in the photo? When it comes to the camera vs. the gun, the gun wins every time in my outings. This time of year, the gun doesn’t get the chance, and we all know the dogs could care less.
For potential new folks this is a great time to introduce them to the outdoors without the added pressure of shooting, or handling a firearm. They can concentrate on the experience, watching the dog work, and learning about the cover. You don’t have to take them to your favorite spots, your success doesn’t depend on it, but make an effort to inform them of what you are looking for. Tell them what you see, what looks good and what doesn’t. Maybe even point out other likely cover they could pursue on their own in the fall. You could also use the time to scout new areas for the coming season, more options come fall being an added bonus.
Regardless of when you do it, use the woodcock to your full advantage. They are an amazing bird to pursue, gun or no gun, and to the unencumbered newbie, they aren’t under-rated at all. They are as they should be, wonderful, exhilarating, and wild.