Woodcock Migration and Early-Season Hunting

Take a stroll through the thick stuff with your upland dog to take advantage of the timberdoodle migration.

Hunter with woodcock and lab


If I'm being honest, and I am, I'd rather hunt grouse. Or pheasants. Or quail. With that out of the way, I will say that woodock hunting has grown on me in recent years. Part of my newfound appreciation for the woodcock, or as my buddies and I sometimes refer to them as – the lumber wiener – is that they are migrators, which means I can find them on public land that is mostly a game desert due to hunting pressure.

The unfortunate timberdoodle doesn't understand when he pitches down into a patch of wormy looking cover that he might be landing on public land in the suburbs of the Twin Cities where I live. This means that while most hunting opportunities are a lost cause, woodcock hunting certainly isn't if you plan it correctly.

As an added bonus, they are a great bird to work an early-season or a young dog on. And they aren't terribly difficult to hit, which is always appreciated during the early part of the season when swinging the over/under for just the right lead doesn't always result in a puff of feathers and a happy dog.

There's much to enjoy about early-season woodcock, but you've also got to know where to look. This isn't as simple as it seems.


Woodcock Cover

I wish I could say that there was a great way to narrow down where the woodcock will be and where they won't. I know conventional wisdom says to check low, wet areas and you'll strike long-beaked gold. The problem with that strategy is that in some areas of the country, there are wet spots everywhere.

[caption id="attachment_13323" align="aligncenter" width="648"]Lab holding woodcock

I encounter this in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin every year. The abundance of potential feeding areas is overwhelming and doesn't lend itself to a precision approach. That's okay – it just means you might want to check your aerial photography and plan a route through a property that might take you and your dog through the right stuff.


Re-Think What's Right

The hunt-where-it's-wet strategy works, but I've also found areas throughout my wanderings that were high-ground woodcock magnets. I honestly don't know why the timberdoodles concentrate in certain areas the way they do. Maybe it's because the worms are a little tastier in specific spots – who knows?

I do know that last year I was grouse and woodcock hunting a huge patch of county land in northern Wisconsin when I followed my dog along the top of a ridge in the hopes of running into a ruff catching some morning sun. What we found, instead of grouse, were several woodcock. I shot poorly but scratched out a few birds and wondered why they were there in the first place. I never figured it out, but I do know where I'll be at the end of this month, wandering once again.

Annually Reliable

The good thing about taking a September woodcock walk is that if you do find birds in a spot, you can usually count on it to produce for a couple of weeks at least. And better than that is the fact that the area that was loaded with them last year will likely be loaded with them this year.

And the next.

At least until something drastically changes, like the woods are clear cut and the cover suddenly disappears. Generally, if things stay the same, new flights of woodcock will visit year after year. If you rack up enough steps on your Fitbit for a few seasons watching a dog work the thick stuff, you should eventually end up with a solid milk run of spots.

[caption id="attachment_13322" align="aligncenter" width="648"]Woodcock hunting with dog

That's how you end up eliminating bird-less areas and can really focus in on the spots that produce flushes. Of course, you'll still have to keep looking for new areas because that's part of the fun, but having some old reliable spots is never a bad thing.ConclusionThey don't get much love when compared to more desirable upland birds, but the woodcock provides a great excuse to take a long walk through the woods in September. You just might find, with enough time invested in hunting timberdoodle, that you're starting to develop an affinity for the little worm eaters, as I have.

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