By Don Mallicoat- They go by different names: timberdoodle, becasse, even mudbat. They are officially the American Woodcock. Scientifically know as scolopax minor. But this is not a science lesson. It’s about a hunt my son and I went on this past week while we were visiting them for Christmas.
A fellow Ruffed Grouse Society member, Stephen Faust, said he regularly got into migratory woodcock flights in the Uwharrie National Forest, about 2 hours from my son’s home in Fayetteville. I was surprised to hear these migratory birds were this far inland. Bob and I haven’t hunted together in over six years due to his military deployments and my work schedule. Stephen volunteered to take Bob and me out the day after Christmas.
Stephen breeds his own Gordon Setters, is a passionate woodcock hunter, and hunts the Uwharrie regularly for them. We met him at 8:30 that morning near Troy. No, I’m not giving you the exact location. As do most bird hunters, Stephen swore me to secrecy. Conditions were ideal: temperature around 55 and cloudy. Great scenting conditions for the dogs.
Anxious to get started, we hit our first spot within a mile of our meeting location. Woodcock like thick cover near streams and soft ground. Their long beaks are used to pull up earthworms, their primary diet. That is exactly where we put the first dog down. We didn’t have long to wait for action. Within 10 minutes the Gordon Setter was locked on point about 20 yards from the stream bed. Maybe it was the “first bird jitters” most bird hunters experience, but Bob and I both missed the single bird after it erupted from the leaf covered ground.
Bob connected on the second bird we flushed a few minutes later. The dog found it and brought it back to hand. We hunted this first spot for about one hour and flushed five woodcock. Two of those flew without a shot fired due to the thick cover. If you are a bird hunter that far exceeds the flush rate in North Carolina for either single grouse or quail coveys. We were up and running!
Our next spot was again along a stream bed with seepages and thick cover. We worked several stream beds and at the head of one Bob got his second bird. Oh, to again see that smile on his face! We also found some woodcock in a recent timber cut on a rise near the stream of all places. This is where I got my first bird with the little Winchester 42 .410. A personal quest to kill both woodcock and grouse with the gun. One block checked. Although the cover looked great we again only flushed five birds.
After a brief roadside lunch we were back at it in a new spot this time. This place looked even more promising with streams and thick field edges bordering them. Our first bird flew within minutes; departing unscathed thanks to the thick cover. Moving farther in the dogs pointed and I shot another bird, this time with my 28 gauge. We crossed over the road into similar habitat and this is where Bob got his third bird for a limit. The last bird of the day escaped without injury thanks to my poor shooting.
Surprisingly, there are not many serious woodcock hunters in North Carolina. In the most recent survey conducted by the state in 2012, only 21% of hunters who had harvested woodcock said they were specifically pursing them. In other words, most woodcock are killed incidental to other hunting activity (rabbit, quail, grouse). As suspected nearly half of those hunts took place in the coastal region. Also, the majority of those hunters surveyed hunted less than six days during the season. That could be a function of the short season.
Because they are migratory game birds the season and bag limits are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The season in North Carolina this year is December 15 through January 28 (typically 45 days). The bag limit is small too, only three birds per day.
Our total flushes for the day was sixteen. We had a great day and amazing dog work. But for me the day was made by the smile on Bob’s face when he bagged that third bird for his limit. It was a special day with memories that we can share well into the future.
Don Mallicoat is a freelance Outdoor Writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org or see other stories at www.donoutdoors.com