Migrating Woodcock

Migrating Woodcock: The Boys Are Back In Town

It’s that time of year when the migrating woodcock come sneaking back. Last week I got a text from “Big D”, a cover-thug hunting buddy who runs English Pointers. His text read “Spread the word around. Guess who’s back in town?”, confirming that The Boys Are Back In Town.
Woodcock On The Ground

Where And When To Find Migrating Woodcock

Skunk Cabbage in woodock coverThe migrating woodcock usually begin to appear around the last week of February or the first week of March.  I sometimes use skunk cabbage as an indicator.  When the cabbage starts peaking out it’s usually fair to assume the woodcock are back.   I asked Big D where he found the birds. He told me they’re hanging down at Dino’s– our code name for a certain section of cover that’s swampy even during freezing weather.  Woodcock will find these springs and will huddle up there until the rest of the ground thaws.Pointing woodcock on wet ground

A Woodcock Jailbreak- Heading North

With an utter disregard to the satisfaction of their female counterparts, guys usually come first.  Like little cowboys, the males are the first to start migrating north.  The hens start to trickle in a week or two later- although that’s not written in stone.  In the last days of February Big D flushed what he thought were several early hen birds.  This could mean a few things:

  • The male woodcock were actually here even earlier than he knew and the hens had just arrived.
  • It was a fluke and these hens just happened to be early arrivals.
  • Bid D was wrong- the birds he saw were actually all males.
  • The whole theory is BS and hens migrate just as early as males.

Woodcock Sky Dance

When migrating woodcock arrive, the male birds stake out their territory and prepare for their evening sky dance rodeo. This is where they strut and display by fanning their tails like tom turkeys.  In the evening right at dusk, they sing their Cowboy Song, otherwise known as “peenting”.   They sound like a locust.  Then, they fly straight up towering into the sky only they keep spinning till they hit the ground.

Gearing Up To Find Migrating Woodcock

Migrating Woodock Sunkhaze Bell
Migrating Woodcock Sunkhaze Bell

All hell breaks loose when the tailgate drops. When chasing migrating woodcock in heavy cover I run a bell on my female brittany and a SportDog beeper.  I love Sunkhaze bells.  I got mine from Gundogs Unlimited.  They come in brass, nickel, and copper, each with their own unique tone.  This helps me hear the hound dogs on their trail.20160306_100236Spring woodcock can be tough to get pointed.  They give off less scent in the spring and this especially applies to hen birds.  So before I start running the dogs, I squirt wind checker powder to determine the volume and direction of wind current. The area where train on migrating woodcock is especially nasty.  In fact it’s so thick and full of briars that it’s actually unhuntable in the fall when the cover is up.   I like to wear my Filson Men’s Shelter Cloth Brush Pant (32, Camel) 14027 and my battle scared Filson Original Style 66 Hunting Coat.  Schnees boots keep my feet high and dry in the wet muddy cover.

Training Dogs On Migrating Woodcock

It’s no secret that woodcock are great for training dogs.  For about one month in early spring, migrating woodcock give me a chance to run my dogs on real wild birds.  Save for woodcock, there aren’t any wild bird training opportunities in south central Pennsylvania anymore.  That’s sad coming from what used to be a pheasant and grouse rich landscape.   English Pointer nails a migrating woodcock

Books About Migrating Woodcock

My two favorite books about woodcock are A Fall Of Woodcock by Tom Huggler and Making Game An Essay on Woodcock by Guy de la Valdene.

Each of these books chronicles nationwide treks following woodcock and their migrations.  Both books take the reader across the country where each author meets interesting characters in his pursuit of woodcock.  Huggler travels in his RV while Valdene hangs with his high-class hunting buddies and enjoys orgies of food in between leisurely hunts.

When To Leave Migrating Woodock Alone

While running dogs and training on migrating woodcock is a lot of fun and a great way to break cabin fever, there’s a time to quit.  The  hens begin nesting around the last week of March or the first week of April.  Pestering the hens and disturbing their nests won’t do a thing to help the future of these birds so consider backing off.

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