Praise for the Prince of Timber

 The Mighty, Underrated Woodcock.
We've all heard it, "there's nothing on 'em," "they taste like worms," "they can hardly fly," "they're ugly";  in the days leading up to my "enlightenment," I had heard it all.  With my first English Setter pup "Wren" approaching her first season, I was eager to get her on birds. Having been raised in the pheasant country of southwest Minnesota, I had never laid eyes on a woodcock, and my opinion of the Prince of Woodland was already diminishing. Having previous experience with the King of Game Birds, I was left doubting my pup's chances against the crafty ruffed grouse, and the excitement I held for the positive characteristics of the timberdoodle while working a pointing dog, was quickly being overshadowed by the negative rhetoric.
Woodcock hiding in the leaves under an English Setter point.
The beginning of the season went as one would expect from an eager pup, and an inexperienced grouse dog handler; hours of crawling among thickets and tangles, intermittently spotted with statuesque points "ruffed up" by a young pup's excitement, and a slippery bird's chicanery. Though few birds found their way to hand, many lessons were learned by both man and dog under the unforgiving tutelage of Mr. Grouse. Long live the king, and live he did.

Several weeks into the season, we pushed forward with equal parts frustration and alacrity.  With our success coming from tighter holding grouse in the young aspen thickets overgrown with raspberry tangles, we found ourselves once again trudging forward, prickle to chap, in the shadow of an energetic setter finding her grace within the labyrinth of tree and thorn. As if never touching the ground, the silence of her movements was only overshadowed by that of their abrupt end.


With past lessons burned clearly in our minds, we approached with the expectation of thunderous wing beats following an eager pup's pressure, and the whispering sight of a grouse through the aspen wall. Upon reaching the scene, no wings were heard, no movement. "No Bird!" I said to my brothers, as I circled beyond the motionless statue of white fur. The intensity dripped from Wren's motionless figure in unison with the steady drip of blood from the cuts opened up by the numerous blackberry brambles.  The clear certainty of the unproductive point shattered into a mix of surprise and motion as the sound of feather to brush signaled the impending bird, rocketing from the raspberries a hair's breadth from a motionless dog's battered nose. In the face of my surprise, I would have laughed at this awkwardly proportioned bird, but instead a genuine sense of amazement fell over me for the incredible aerial acrobatics performed by this long beaked flier through heavy aspen cover, all while whistling as if there was no reason for concern. At some point amidst the fray, the realization of what was before me hit home; finding my shotgun already thoughtlessly tracking the upward spiraling figure I yelled "Woodcock!" as if it were a battle cry of old in an attempt to signal my fellow shooters. It was too late however, for my aim was true, or my luck truer, as the sweet smell only an uplander would know filled my lungs - the smell of sweet autumn air, smokeless powder, and satisfaction, as the bird fell to ground.
CZ Bobwhite giving the Orvis Strap Vest a break with a limit of woodcock.
Rushing toward last sight of the falling bird, doubt began to fill my mind despite my vivid glimpse of the over sized hummingbird profile that could mean only one thing. Was that really a woodcock? Everything shown to us by this feathery friend went against what I had heard about woodcock. Snipe seemed like a closer fit, but the image of the bird's profile, that had been stamped into my memory, matched everything I had ever seen about the old timberdoodle. After a short search, Wren hovered over a small pocket of fallen leaves as though the bird was close. An extensive scan of the ground revealed two wings, outstretched over the ground as if gliding to rest on a bed of leaves, a bed of leaves in the shape of a chunky bird's body.

Confirmed after an excited examination in the hand, this bird was in fact a woodcock.  Beautiful contrasting markings among the rusty oranges, warm earth tones, and subtle off white creams outlining the most notable features on the bird, two large black eyes settled above the long functionary beak. Surely this bird was an exception to all the information I had received. Unknown to me however, a large flight of migrating woodcock had found their daytime resting place within the extensive aspen cover in which we knelt admiring this anomaly; bird after bird proved under staunch point, with its signature upward flight and the agility of a grouse, that not only was my first timberdoodle no exception, the Prince of Timber is quite exceptional.

As another great season fades into the past, many new memories will remain vivid in our minds throughout the off-season. These unmistakable silhouettes ascending into the treetops above the still climax of a pointing dog's instinctual, and relentless pursuit, fuel us toward many more memorable seasons to come. Though not the glamorous bird of the drumming log, nor sophisticated covey bird of the south, the humble woodcock exemplifies the essence of our outdoor passion.  Many years ago in those stands of raspberry laced aspen, an appreciation was realized under whistling wings, an appreciation for the pursuit, an appreciation for the under appreciated, an appreciation for the prince of timber, the Mighty Woodcock.

     -Aaron Regier

Also if you liked this article, check out our Woodcock hunting montage video, "Woodcockalypse"

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