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Woodcock Hunting


woodcock-1Woodcock is quite the odd fellow. Small in stature, barely topping five ounces for bigger females and considerably less for the diminutive males. And to say he is a handsome bird is, well, generous. When it comes to wingshooting in the Carolina’s, few can match the excitement and when the migration is hit, the abundance.

Most wingshooting in the south centered on the Bob White quail. This handsome bird is the one many volumes have been written. His mystique is legend, but his abundance has been relegated to ‘the days of old’. I personally have never shot a wild bob white quail in my native state of South Carolina. The change of habitat and farming practices all but decimated his existence. Here, wingshooting is almost exclusively relegated to the mourning dove. Except for a few precious weeks in late December and most of January when the woodcock arrive on their annual migration to the southland of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Woodcock eat earthworms exclusively. Their long slender bill is designed for probing into soft ground around streams and rivers in search of the invertebrates that make up their entire diet. Often it is difficult to know exactly when the migration will take place. Dictated by the weather in their northern climates, the woodcock arrives as the temperature drops. He can be absent one day and in overabundance the next. Literally arriving overnight in mass.

A recent trip to some property not far from the Wateree river in central South Carolina, resulted in seventeen flushes one day and five the following day. The third trip produced twelve flushes.

Hunting the Woodcock with a dog is best, their musty smell is easily recognizable to most dogs. Many consider the scent of the woodcock similar to that of a rabbit and many hunters do not like having their dogs pursue them for fear they will begin running rabbits instead of pointing birds. It has been my experience that a close working flushing dog is good for woodcock. In my case we use Boykin spaniels that are close working and easy to get birds into the air. The difficulty with woodcock hunting is where the birds like to look for food is usually some of the thickest and nastiest vines, briars and brambles on the property. It is not uncommon to get a flush and not be able to mount your gun due to it getting hung on some vine during the swing.

My first woodcock came almost twenty five years ago. Walking along the broad river in Newberry County on some WMA land. I was squirrel hunting along the riparian zone and a flush literally between my legs sent me scurrying and lead flying in no particular direction. Nineteen flushes later I finally connected and was hooked on the excitement of hunting woodcock.

Small gages or light loads with wide open chokes are necessary for this bird. Not difficult to bring down if you can hit them. They hold tight and flutter, dart, turn, dodge and make connecting something to be celebrated.

For wingshooters, looking for some action during January, look for well-formed streams, rivers, and thick locations to spend the day frustrating yourself in the pleasure of woodcock hunting.