Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Affair with Woodcock

Toss the word woodcock into a conversation with a group of people and most will give you a empty stare. Perhaps someone will know that it is a small brown bird with a long bill that frequents swampy areas, but if by chance there is a woodcock hunter in that group of people you can bet that his eyes will light up, his pulse will quicken, and his attention will be solely upon you with the hope that you will perhaps reveal the location of a woodcock sighting, for a woodcock hunter is always on the alert for a possible lead to any new covert that he can find for it is the nature of the bird to be a mystery, with it's migratory behavior a woodcock covert can be overflowing with birds one day and void of birds the next.

To find a person who will admit to being a woodcock hunter in the Allegheny Mountains is a rare find indeed. Huge racked bucks and long bearded tom turkeys are much more impressive than a small long billed misplaced shore bird. Even grouse hunters who take a shot at a woodcock when the opportunity arises will admit that it is the thunderking of bird the ruffed grouse that they mainly seek. But I will step out of the shadows and admit that I am a woodcock hunter. When the season is open you will find my truck nosed off the road along a damp stream bottom, a swampy looking lake edge, or a wet lying abandoned meadow where my setter and I will be questing for the thin flights of birds that are typical of these Allegheny Mountains

With its penchant to hold tight for a pointing dog as opposed to a skitterish grouse the woodcock is a great bird to train a young dog on or enjoy the rock solid points of an older dog, although I have had days when the little buggers have run like rabbits out from under a point. Thought by some to be an "easy" bird to bag I've found myself turned, twisted, and generally befuddled by the evasive, contorted flight of the woodcock and some days my shooting average is embarrassing low. But the reasons I pursue woodcock are not to fill a game bag. One is to enjoy the solitude of the dense low lying coverts that the birds seek out. Level walking for sure, but not easy walking as you fight your way through tangles of alders. thorny crabapple thickets, and other nasty flora, but the key reason I pursue woodcock is the dog work. To hear your dogs bell go silent or it's beeper go on point mode, to" quietly" fight your way through nearly impenetrable cover, to find your dog camouflaged in mud frozen in a crouching point, to experience the anticipation of the abrupt flush through impervious branches, to sense the recoil of the gun against your shoulder, to see the bird drop or fly away.......these are the reasons I hunt woodcock.

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