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Joined: 06/03/2010

            Someone once referred to the woodcock as the gentleman of the upland game birds. While I don’t really like to put human labels on game I am hunting I do think the woodcock is a very reserved and likeable bird. The long bill with the little flat ends that looks almost like a platypus in miniature is kind of neat. The habitat the bird lives in is varied but much the same as the ruffed grouse habitat and perhaps a bit damper, but while the grouse is more chicken like wandering around picking food off the ground the woodcock is selective in its diet, which is mostly worms and that’s why it’s beak is like it is.
            Woodcock have never been very abundant in my part of Upper Michigan. They come and go with the seasons and some years there are a few more than in other years but their numbers are never really enough to count them as a prominent game bird up here. They are migratory and travel from summer places to their wintering territory and I’m not really certain where that is or how far away those places are. I know that as a person goes east there are places like New England where woodcock are as numerous as grouse and are hunted as frequently as the grouse are but the population is in decline.
            My experience with the humble woodcock has always been on a “once in a while” basis. I would be hunting partridge and sometimes a woodcock would bust out and surprise me. The little bird can be very deceptive as it sometimes comes straight up off the ground in front of your face sometimes even peeping before it levels off and departs for somewhere else. I think my shot to bird bag ratio was always about off the charts. In a given season when the little worm eaters were plentiful enough for me to flush a few I would only bag three or four. I rate them as harder to hit than the partridge and partridge are sure hard enough.
            When I lived in New Mexico for a few years the locals introduced me to quail hunting and I was immediately struck by the similarity of quail to woodcock. I don’t mean that they are the same kind of bird, they are not, but they are both small and they both are hard to hit. People often refer to a shotgun as a “scattergun” implying that the shot spreads out in a wide pattern to cover everything its path. This isn’t so and any good shotgunner knows that the shot is actually a long string and although it does widen out with distance it also allows ample “holes” for little birds to fly through.
            With quail the uninitiated hunter often forgets to pick a single bird and simply fires into the whole covey and misses completely and with woodcock the shooter is often fooled into believing that the target is where it really isn’t! The wily little spitfire can abruptly twist and turn from one flight path to another before the shooters brain can calculate the new course and this often results in many missed shots. Of course this is just my observation based on my marginal shooting ability so other hunters may disagree with me. No matter what the ability of the shooter woodcock are a real pleasure to hunt!
            My usual shotgun for quail, and sometimes woodcock, is the 20 gauge and my favorite is a side by side Browning that was a birthday present from my wife. I have hunted the smaller game with that gun for many years and love the “small gun for small birds” in contrast to my 12 gauge which did the bulk of my partridge and pheasant hunting before I discovered the 20 gauge. There is something about overkill when a 12 gauge is used to blast such tiny birds out of the sky!
            Other writers have referred to the woodcock by many different names meant to endear the little feathered flyer to hunters, sometimes he’s called timberdoodle, but I simply think of the bird as a well mannered quarry that kindly gives the hunter a close up look at him as he rises to flutter away. Sometimes the bird is even polite enough to turn right back at the shooter and wink as he flies by!
 Picture from “timberdoodle.org”  
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