Archive for the ‘Woodcock’ Tag



Timberdoodle, bog borer, brush snipe, needlenose or whatever you call him locally, the Woodcock is the most difficult to shoot with bow and arrow or any game animal.

About 11-inches in length, they weigh about six ounces. A loner by nature the Woodcock looks like a pile of leaves as they sit tight and allow the bowhunter to walk past.  Woodcock inhabit heavy cover such as wet woods, moist thickets and marshy brush.

The few hunters who actually spot them see only a flash of flight as they fly twisting through the heavy woods. It is amazing that they do not hit the tree limbs on their flight to safety.  Arrows cast after them bounce off of limbs like steel balls in the old fashioned pin ball machines.

Early hunters using shotguns decimated the populations for the market value of their flesh. The development of land for agriculture also restricted their breeding grounds.  Despite this they have returned to huntable populations throughout their range.  Their ability to search out and destroy insects and worms is beneficial to man.

Bowhunters in search of this shy, secretive and largely nocturnal have but two chances of taking one. This writer has never been able to solve the problem of getting one.  The first chance is from a blind location near a suspected breeding ground.  It is basically a matter of a chance encounter and is not a high percentage opportunity.  The second chance is to catch them on the ascendency as the little bird rises straight up when flushed.  Although they do not always do so, some woodcock will rise straight up with their long pointed bill pointed downward.  You might catch him at the peak of the rise before he disappears into the timber.

Having tried both of these patterns in the Shawnee national Forest of southern Illinois, to date they have proven unsatisfactory. Trying to spot them on the ground has proven a waste of time.  Several shots as they rise have always been snap shot and less than accurate with the arrows passing far off into the timber without cutting a feather.

Woodcock hunting with bow and arrow is a sport for the instinctive shooter. There is no time to use a sight with any degree of certainty.  If one does hot shoot in seconds he might just as well have stayed home.

Because of the fast flight of this little bird a fast shooting bow and light arrow is probably best. Due to the expense of such arrows it could prove costly too.  A three fletch provides stability without sacrificing speed.  Light arrows travel faster and feathers are more forgiving of a poor release.  A blunt tip is preferable for all small game as it provides the shock power to make a clean human kill.  Blunts also help in not getting stuck in the top of a tree, as would a sharper arrow head.

Camouflage is not an essential, as the birds tend to spot you long before you see them. Woodcock hunting is a reaction type of hunting as opposed to the more calculated type of stalking done in deer hunting.

Despite the potential number of missed shots and lost arrows, it is not necessary to have a lot of arrows on each hunting trip. The reason is the solitary nature of the bird.  One does not get a lot of shooting opportunities.  You do not find a lot of them together as with other upland birds and waterfowl.  The shooting a hunter gets is however fast and furious and it causes his heart to skip a beat in excitement.





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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