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Timberdoodles of the South

 Timberdoodles of the South


For upland hunters in the Carolinas and Georgia, finding wild quail is difficult at best. Thankfully we have an alternative that comes around late in the season. Woodcock are abundant along the river drainages. Beginning in late December woodcock begin to migrate into our states. As the cold of New England push them down more and more upland hunters find timberdoodles along the riparian zones that border our major rivers.

Billy Dukes, Small game coordinator for the South Carolina Department of natural resources agrees. “With our new early season woodcock season, hunters have more opportunities to pursue these exciting game birds.” In South Carolina, woodcock season opens December 18-January 31, 2013. This extends the season by a full two weeks than the traditional season. A daily bag limit of three birds exists. However, the small daily limit doesn’t detract from the challenge of hunting these quick game birds.

Woodcock eat worms exclusively, finding their telltale holes where their long slender beak probe for worms is critical to finding them. This being the case, they love damp to wet conditions that hold a lot of worms. This makes the slews and marshes along the rivers prime habitat for woodcock.

While a trained dog isn’t necessary, it certainly helps to find and recover the downed birds. Their molten brown color is perfect camouflage in the leaf clutter that covers the area they prefer. Small gages dominate the hunters arsenal for woodcock. These birds are small and fast, they seldom fly straight, preferring to dash and dart among the thick underbrush. Light weight fast swinging shotguns are the norm. From the light 20 gauge to the 28 and .410 bore are all excellent woodcock guns with the 28 being my personal favorite. This light gun is easy to carry and quick to shoot in the cover. Shot in size # 8 is ideal but some prefer the 7 ½ for added pellets. Once shot, the woodcock can be next to impossible to find. Marking its descent is critical.

A few years ago, I found myself along the broad river in Newberry county. The Sumter national forest has hundreds of acres along this big river and the riparian zone is an excellent location to find timberdoodles. I look for very cold weather, knowing this will bring them in quickly. Being migratory, the birds can be here today and gone tomorrow. Hitting the migration is crucial to success. On this particular day, I was without a dog, and walking along a short stretch flushed no less than 19 woodcock. Some were holding so tight, I almost literally stepped on them as I strolled along. On one occasion, a big female flushed so close her wings struck my pants leg as she tore out of there. Needless to say, she got away without a shot fired. While I only harvested one of the woodcock I flushed that day, the excitement and rush of the flush set the hook deep in my soul. Now seldom a cold front passes in January that I am not walking along a river in the piedmont of low country of South Carolina looking for woodcock.

Rivers are the best place to find woodcock, but they are not the only place to find them. Belfast Plantation in Newberry/Laurens counties of South Carolina has a great population of ‘doodles’ and hunters regularly get their limit along the creeks and back water that dominates certain stretches of this vast area.

Lowcountry areas are also great for woodcock. Along the Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Lumber, Black, Edisto, rivers are all great areas for woodcock. Make sure you stay in the fresh water, since they don’t like brackish or salt water.

For hunters looking for a great mid-winter opportunity, with a lot of action and weight in their game bag, give woodcock a try.