After hunting wood ducks hard for a week I had more than a little trouble finding the safety on my over/under 20-gauge during the first flush. The woodcock made his way safely to the edge of the swamp before I sent a pair of sixes well behind his tail feathers. Several attempts to re-flush the bird proved unsuccessful.
The following day I sent my Lab into the same cover, and she ran through it without encountering one of the small worm-eaters. Later that morning, though, we did run across a single bird feeding away in a swampy point. Having learned my lesson from the first flush I found the safety much quicker and made good on the shot. The following day a hunting buddy and I busted brush for most of the morning before Luna pushed a woodcock into the air. Fortunately, that bird didn’t escape my shotgun’s pattern either.
The woodcock migration, which is just starting to kick in here in central Minnesota, is something I have always taken for granted. At least until last fall anyway. With a new pup and no pheasants or close-to-home grouse to hunt, I started Luna on woodcock and in a forehead-slapping moment, realized that I had been ignoring one of the coolest upland hunting opportunities we have.
That will not happen again, and as I spend my time hiking behind a black Lab at the edges of swamps and other lowlands waiting for the telltale flush, I realize how similar woodcock hunting is to grouse hunting. Not only terrain and style, but excitement and reward. If you’ve never taken advantage of the short window of fresh woodcock that make their way through to warmer climes, consider it.
One flush is all it will take before you are hooked.