Just what is this animal the woodcock? Why is not a major hunting species?  It is the hunter’s ultimate challenge but not really well known out of the eastern states.

Hunters seek game animals ranging in size from quail to elephant but seldom do they hunt the diminutive woodcock.

No matter what he is called, be it Timberdoodle, bog sucker, wood snipe, bec, night partridge, mud snipe, wall snipe, bog borer, siphon snipe or owl snipe, the woodcock is a fascinating quarry. About the size of a man’s fist, with a head the size of a golf ball, it does not present much of a target.

Woodcock plumage is brown, black and gray with large black eyes, set well back on the head. Its long bill, about 1 3/4-inches in length, bores into the mud in search of worms.  Once the sensitive tip of the bill locates a worm it grasps it by the hinged portion near the tip.  Above ground this bill grabs ants and flying moths.

The entire body sits atop short spindly legs sometimes missing. There are some of these little rascals who have lost their legs and still lead a relatively normal existence.  Legs do not seem to be essential to their survival.

What is essential is good habitat and weather. Heavy freezes on their wintering grounds and otherwise unfavorable weather during the migration are the chief mortality factors.  Man’s pollution of the land and clearing it for civilization also figure in the destruction of the species.

Because woodcock tend to return to the same areas each year leads to man coveting those hunting spots. The areas are coverts.  They are patches of woodland that dense from low to 15-feet high.  They also are knolls and swamps with assorted shrubbery.  Near them are small open fields.  The birds need a clear space 6-inches above the earth so the woodcock can forage at will.  They avoid thick grass.

Unlike most upland game birds, woodcock relish wet conditions. Young forests or brushy cover with ferns, are good.  The woodcock can forage under the fronds of the ferns near the edge of the forest land.

In hot weather they move to clean forest floors of dense stands of conifers. It is cool there and the soil is rich, black and moist.

Finding the right type of habitat does not mean that the woodcock will be there. One must look for other signs.  For some reason good habitat in two locations that appears perfect will sometimes have birds and otherwise not have any.  The most sure sign of woodcock in the area are the boreholes drilled into the soft ground by feeding birds.  Also present are chalk-colored splashes (droppings) the size of a quarter.

Pre-season scouting must include some sightings of birds. The best time to seek woodcock is in the evening as they fly from spruces at low altitudes, dropping into the briars and other cover in open fields.  At twilight they feed in thickets and then feed all night in the briars.  The birds normally leave about a half hour before sunrise for the forest protection.

Once spooked from their lair, they seldom fly straight for any distance. They flush by taking a step and rising straight up briefly.  They flash the underside of their tail feathers making them look much larger than reality.  Woodcock make a twitter sound flying slow but erratically.  They often circle and suddenly change speed or direction.  The first sight of a flushed bird one is surprise by how closely they flush and how well they avoid contact with the twigs and tree limbs.

In fall the hunter finds both migrating and breeding flocks. The migrating birds may be in one covert and no birds founds in another.  The covert may be empty one day and full of birds the next.  The migrating birds travel in loose bands and move slowly unless an extreme cold front hits.

Woodcock hunters need local both local small game licenses and migratory bird stamps.


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  1. So you shoot those little dudes with arrows? Over more than 30 years of hunting them in the Upper Peninsula, I’ve perfected my “shoot-and-release” technique with a shotgun. I’d sure lose a lot of arrows.

    • If you look carefully when out in those northern woods of MI and WI chances are that you may find many of the hundreds of arrows I left behind buried in the brush. 🙂

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