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A Couple of Rookies Chasing Woodcock

November 1, 2008
By JON MAGEE, For The Inter-Mountain

Well I finally got a chance to get out with Brandy my young pointer pup for a day of hunting grouse and woodcock in the Canaan Valley area. I was really hoping to find some woodcock, a small migratory game bird that holds tight in cover and is an excellent bird for young dogs to learn how to handle birds for the hunter.

Woodcock or Timberdoodles as they are often called are an interesting bird, not encountered very often unless jumped out of heavy cover where they rest during the day they fly mostly at night. They feed primarily on earthworms and like to hang out in dark boggy places in and around thick Woodcock are odd-looking birds and some say they look like big insects with a long pointed beak used for probing the ground for worms and large bulbous eyes useful for night travel.

Most woodcock nest in the more northern latitudes of New England and southern Canada and are most abundant in the fall as they migrate through on their way to wintering grounds in the south. However, some nesting does take place in West Virginia and the birds can be seen on spring evenings when they perform their mating flight during courtship. Canaan Valley with it's wetlands that are mostly encompassed by the National Wildlife Refuge is a popular place for nesting timberdoodles and a major stopover for migratory birds.

I took Brandy to the refuge in search of these small birds hoping the pup would find some woodcock and grouse and maybe point a couple for the gun. We started looking in the alders and aspen thickets and Brandy was going crazy running through the heavy cover discovering smells she had never encountered before. I had never hunted on the refuge before and had no idea of the best places that would hold birds so I just let Brandy hunt and followed her letting her nose guide both of us. Somehow or another we found birds, not a lot, but we did find a few and Brandy seemed to learn a little more from each bird she came across.

We were working into the wind when I noticed she was getting birdy and obviously searching for game when she busted one and it almost flew into my face. Instinctively I threw the gun up for a shot when I remembered not to shoot if she does not point and pulled off. The next bird she did a little better but she blew that one out of there also by cat walking up on it after establishing point, I still had to hold off on the shot, this is a tough thing to do when birds are flushing right in front of you.

Some people claim that woodcock are easy to hit since they will often fly straight up out of cover then pause momentarily as they level off then zoom away over the top of cover and on this pause is when you want to take your shot. However, our third woodcock of the day, the first one she handled well, Brandy went on a rock solid point out in the open between a pair of hawthorns. I knew it must be a bird even though it was in an unlikely spot. I was approaching her from the side when a little russet colored rocket exploded from the thick grass and flew straight away about waist high, zig-zagging toward a thicket fifty yards away, I leveled the shotgun and somehow found feathers and pulled the trigger and low and behold, the bird tumbled to the ground.

Brandy was so excited she actually over ran the downed bird and was searching in the wrong place, I called her to the spot I saw it fall, and after a couple minutes Brandy found her prize, a beautifully camouflaged male woodcock laying in the tall grass.

By this time, she was getting either tired or figuring out the game; she slowed down and started working cover thoroughly for that wonderful bird scent letting her instincts guide her. She was not quite as frantic as earlier and then later in the day, she found a couple grouse, she bumped one but the second one she pointed beautifully, head curled around some alders with her nose pointed into a dark corner of brush. The bird was tucked in some alders next to a hemlock stand and she was locked up solid on this bird, not moving but quivering with excitement as I moved in for the flush and sure enough, this bird came thundering out as only grouse do and of course, I missed it completely with both shots.

Oh well, one out of two wasn't bad for a couple rookies, so we left the valley with one woodcock and some valuable experience on wild birds for both of us. You could tell young Brandy was proud of herself as she curled up in the back seat and slept on the ride home.



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