North country woodcock hunting tactics
My hunting partners and I never really consider woodcock and grouse hunting two different things when the season is open. We just work good cover for either and wait for the dogs to put flush something.
With the woodcock season coming in not long after the grouse opener, this isn’t a bad strategy. But, there’s also something else going on. Early grouse are tough, and we are more likely to hear a grouse flush than see it. This means that during the first part of the season, unless you’re running a good pointer, the odds of a flush turning into a little heft in your game bag aren’t great.
With woodcock, they’re better, however. Not only are they a great option for a young dog to cut his teeth on, but the are also a hunt-saver if you know how to deviate from a grouse plan a little bit.
We do this when the migration ramps up and the grouse hunting is tough. Oftentimes we’ll work stretches of high timber that feature patches of gray dogwood or other grouse food, and then we’ll swing down into the lower ground to see what the timberdoodle population is like.
Sometimes you find both species in the same cover, but oftentimes it’s a matter of adjusting your routes to cover some less grousy country in the hopes of having some of the slower, easier-to-see-and-shoot woodcock flush in range.
When the ruff flushes are few and far between, this is my strategy during every hunt for a couple of reasons: The first is that it’s more fun to have a few chances to actually shoot and to round up some dinner in the wild. The second is that it gets the dog a good chance to experience what you’re out there for so that they don’t lose interest.
If your grouse experiences are leaving you (and your dog) wanting a little more, take a look at some aerial photos of your hunting ground to identify low spots where higher ground meets lower edges. These are ideal for woodcock, and they can prove to be a hunt-saver.