Woodcock, Pennsylvania woodlands' smallest game bird, can save the day
Known by many folk names such as timber doodle, brush snipe, night partridge and bog sucker – to name a few – the American woodcock is a strange looking bird to say the least. With its long beak, big eyes, round head, short legs and stubby body, it is undoubtedly built differently than the majority of members of the avian variety.
It is also a wonderful little game bird.
Much of my youthful hunting was performed out the back door of my parents home and into the fields and fencerows that surrounded a nice rectangular 50-acre stand of relatively new growth forest.
The hunting was primarily for pheasants and rabbits, and after a season opening first week where the fields saw heavy pressure, the best hunting could be found in the big woodlot as remaining game sought the cover of the thickets the young forest provided.
Toward the one end of the woodlot the ground was often wet, much wetter than the other sections. Because a few small drainage channels funneled water toward an undersized stream that flowed on the woodlots edge, all it took was a good rain storm to overflow the shallow channels and keep the woods at that end wet and soft.
I well remember certain days hunting in those woods when relatives, my father and myself just could not get a pheasant to flush, nor jump a cottontail for the dogs to chase. It would be frustrating, especially to the relatives who had to travel almost an hour to get there, and could only hunt on Saturdays.
But many of those exasperating days were saved by our deciding to head toward the wet part of the woods and try for woodcocks.
Some days there were few to be found, but other days when the birds were apparently moving through the area and feeding on the earthworms that were still close enough to the surface, the flushing and shooting was often fast and furious, and would save a day of hunting that had been dull at best.
Experts now say that the overall population of woodcocks has declined annually by 1 percent since the 1960s due mostly to lost habitat that has resulted from maturing forest and urban development. Still, there are hunt-worthy populations to be found.
Here in Pennsylvania, the woodcock season opened this past Saturday, and remains open till Nov. 28. There is a three-bird daily limit.
As the air turns colder in October, woodcocks start to migrate in a southern direction. Coming from as far as Canada and usually migrating at night, they tend to travel in singular numbers. But where a forested food source is found, many birds can appear quickly within a small area.
Hunters of woodcock prefer light loads in 20 and .410 gauges to hunt this bird, which is a slow flyer and usually does not travel far after being flushed.
I personally have found the taste of woodcock to hold a touch of liver flavor, something I enjoy very much. No matter how they are prepared, the breasts are a culinary delight produced by the wilds of nature.
If you know some woodcock spots and are having a slow day hunting other small game, give the woodcock patch a try. This little guy can save the day.