I must be under a spell. In October, the choice of game, where I live, ranges from the awesome moose to wild turkey and on down to the delectable ruffed grouse. Yet, with all this top rated fare, I choose to spend the last two weekends in October chasing the silly little woodcock.
I never intended to be a timber doodle hunter. First, there were a few incidental flushes while hunting grouse. They made sporty targets and good table fare. Soon I was going a few steps out of my way to check out likely woodcock hideouts. Now, the little rascals have me charmed. Late in October, I’ll be in the bottom land poplars and berry canes. I’ll be carrying an over and under and a pocket full of number eight shot shells. My pointing dog will be sweeping back and forth like a wiper blade in front of me and there’s no place else I’d rather be.
Perhaps I’m fond of them because their season is so short. After one or two frosts in November, they’re southbound. Where I live, the ducks and geese hang on into December. The grouse can be hunted ‘til the middle of January and rabbits ‘til the end of February, but there are only four or five weeks for woodcock. The first three weeks are poor hunting because there are still too many leaves on the trees to see them. They’re like the life span of a good dog. Their time is always too short.
Perhaps I’m drawn to them because of their saucy style. They lay a scent trail for my dog to follow that has more twists than a licorice stick, through tangles so thick she should wear safety goggles. I love watching her get intense, nose to the ground, tail slamming back and forth like a piston. She pauses momentarily to let her nose solve the mystery and then plunges on through the undergrowth until she points the bird which is now holding tight, but invisible in the brush.
We know the bird is there and we know it’s going to flush but we don’t know when. It’s a surprise every time. It may come from in front of the dog where I am looking or it may come from behind me. It may come up from near my own feet and flash its stiletto beak past my eyes. Two or three birds may jump up like popcorn in a hot pan. Whatever happens I won’t be ready. I’ll be off balance, stepping over a log, or my gun barrel will be tangled up in branches.
There it is! The bird teases me with the chant of its whirring wings.
By the time I get gun to shoulder the bird is up to speed; a feathered blur, twisting through the foliage like a rocket powered corkscrew. I finally swing the muzzle ahead of it and tap the trigger. The bird veers at the same instant. Missed! It helicopters up above canopy of leaves and branches. I swing the muzzle up through the bird just as it’s disappearing and touch off the second barrel. A half a bushel of leaves drift earthward, not one feather among them.
I break open my gun to shuck the empty shells. On cue, a second bird, with the nerves of a gunfighter flushes from near my feet. Predictably, this bird presents an easy, straightaway shot. I fumble for a shell while the bird gets out of range. It settles into the brush fifty yards away after hovering a few seconds to be sure I’ve seen it. I fall for this astonishingly blatant invitation to follow and play the fool again. I am definitely under their spell.