Spring Woodcock Training
Due to the spring woodcock migration, March is a month we look forward to with great anticipation. We have the opportunity to train our dogs on these beloved little birds. After spending the winter months in the warm South, the American woodcock breeds, nests and hatches their clutch in the North; which means they must migrate through several states to get to their breeding grounds.
The migration provides an outstanding opportunity to introduce pups to wild birds or simply tune-up an older dog. Although most woodcock hunters feel the woodcock is running more than in the past, the majority of the birds still hold tight for the point. And this is what we’re looking for…especially for puppies.
During the spring migration, woodcock will layover in areas they’re not normally found during fall hunting season. For example, there is a small wooded area (30’ x 60’) between my house and my neighbor. When the birds are coming through, there are always one or two woodcock in that small area. Also, there is a strip along my driveway that always has birds. I’ve taken numerous photos of my dogs standing in the driveway while on-point. You’ll also find them in ditches along the road; however, be careful of vehicle traffic. And, of course, you’ll find them in all your traditional woodcock cover of thickets of the thorniest kind.
Speaking of traditional woodcock cover, the spring gives you the opportunity to search for new fall hunting cover. Look for early successional growth…the same type of cover in which you’ll find ruffed grouse. The difference between woodcock and grouse is that you’ll find grouse in both high and low country where woodcock are usually found lower and near moisture. The woodcock needs soft ground to penetrate with their long beak. They feed on earth worms, grubs, etc.
Regarding soft ground, in the spring, if you still have snow or ice on the ground, look for seeps where melting has occurred. The seeps have soft ground and allow the woodcock to feed.
For spring woodcock, we don’t like our dogs to chase after the flush. These birds have traveled several hundred miles and are tired. They want to get to their breeding grounds and have chicks…which is exactly what we want them to do. To prevent chasing, we run our pups with a check-cord. To do it right, however, two people are required. One person to handle the dog and one to flush the bird. After the bird has flushed, pick-up your pup and carry it away. Don’t pick a pup up by the collar and drag it away. I’ve seen pups blink birds after having been man-handled after a flush. For well-mannered adult dogs, simply heel them away from the bird. These are important steps since spring woodcock will often fly only 20 feet. A chasing dog could really stress-out the bird.
I mention above how a woodcock may have traveled hundreds of miles. This past November, for Bird Dogs Afield TV, I filmed a grouse hunt in Michigan. With us on that hunt was noted woodcock biologist Al Stewart who works for Michigan DNR. Due to modern tracking technology, it has been learned that the American woodcock will often travel 400 miles per night during their migration. And it’s not always from North to South in the fall and South to North in the spring. One woodcock was recorded to have flown from East Texas to Manitoba Canada to New Hampshire. Yikes, what a trip!
The American woodcock has been a friend to the pointing dog owner/upland hunter for decades. Respect it and it will give you many hours of spring training and fall hunting joy.
Copyright 2018 Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller is a life-long sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German shorthaired pointer in 1961. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.