The shooting of woodcock requires more skill and experience than any other game with driven woodcock considered the ultimate of all sporting birds. Small and fast, the woodcock tends to break late when disturbed meaning they offer a challenge to any shot at close range. At medium range they offer a challenge of both accuracy and aim, meaning a flushed woodcock is a test for even the most experienced shot.
With the season beginning this month and the bulk of these migratory birds expected in November, here’s a five tips to help you bag this most elusive of game birds…
#1 Know where to look
Often found in the pheasant woods, the woodcock feeds nocturnally on earthworms in the soft soil around streams, abandoned farmland and boggy ground. But during the day they prefer dense cover and can be incredibly secretive. In autumn, large numbers arrive in the UK from central and northern Europe but given their patterned brown plumage they are still incredibly difficult to spot on the ground so keep your eyes peeled and listen out for their distinctive gargled call.
#2 Keep an eye on your dog
Woodcocks tend to move in a haphazard fashion when feeding on the forest Floor or moving about in search of cover. A flushing dog will, as a result, run this way and that as it follows the ground scent. As soon as you see your dog behave in this way get ready…
#3 Be patient
Woodcock tend to hold on longer than the grouse before flying and they tend to fly more slowly so don’t make the mistake of unloading too quickly. Woodcock can also fly far less predictably than grouse and have a tendency to shoot up in all directions. Make sure you don’t do the same.
#4 Finding the bird after the shoot
A woodcock’s colouration means it is often pretty difficult to see. Even for your dog. So if you think you’ve brought one down, note the area where you think it fell and pick out a landmark such as an unusual tree branch as a reference point. Also note where you were standing and mark that point and then start looking. Luckily a winged woodcock will not hit the ground running like a grouse and you should be able to find your bird.
#5 Be safe
Given that the woodcock is an erratic flyer there is an increased risk of encroaching on your neighbour’s birds and of course an increased risk of accidentally shoot your neighbour if a bird or covey of birds are going towards him. Only shoot within your area and only when it is safe to do so. Never ever shoot into woods or hedges, as this is where the beaters will likely be. Shoot only when you can see clear sky around the bird. This will ensure any stray pellets are fired into the air rather than towards an unsuspecting neighbour. If you are ever in doubt, do not shoot. Only ever shoot when you are absolutely sure that it is safe to do so.
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