Learning all about the exciting time of spring Woodcock training.
I can feel it in my bones. I can smell it in the air. And I’m beginning to think the dog can sense it as well. Winter is losing its grasp over the north country and spring is knocking on the door. For some, the snows have already melted and the Spring woodcock have begun to arrive.
If you’ve ever trekked through the spring woods in pursuit of grouse and woodcock, you know full well the magic of this delightful time of year. If you haven’t incorporated this ritual into your annual routine, I’m here to tell you that you and your bird dogs are missing out!
Over the past few years since acquiring my first bird dog, I’ve grown quite fond of the spring training season. A second season of sorts, spring is an opportunity for both dog and handler to knock a bit of rust off, experiment with new methods and hone their skills for the hunting season to come.
For many people the spring flight of woodcock offers a unique opportunity. You might be surprised where you can find woodcock while they migrate from the south back to their breeding grounds in the north. Even if you can’t hunt near your home, you might live near a place that harbors wild birds this time of year. City, county and state parks with forest edges are great places to start. For those who live near the covers they hunt or are willing to travel, the spring season is an excellent time to scout new territory. This is a great time of year to try those spots you weren’t sure about last fall. Get in there and check them out!
One unique aspect of the spring season is that by removing the element of bagging game, the hunter is free to focus on some of the finer details of the hunt. The dog work is an obvious one as the spring season truly is the season for the dogs. Beyond that, however, it’s a time to think about how we hunt and how we work with our dogs. And it’s also a great opportunity to capture some quality photos and video footage of both our dogs and the birds.
Practice New Concepts for Approaching Woodcock Points
A couple years ago, during the spring season of course, I began the habit of circling in front of my dog on point as I was attempting to get a better camera vantage point of the dog. I didn’t realize exactly why at the time, but I started capturing some amazing photos and videos of dogs on point and birds flushing.
I stumbled upon this technique quite by accident. Later, the theory was confirmed while chatting with a friend who’d heard from a more seasoned grouse hunter who attempts to circle in front of the dog on every point, no matter the scenario. The idea is that when a bird gets pinned between the hunter and the dog, the bird’s margin for escape is drastically reduced. It also encourages the bird, when flushed, to gain altitude quickly, providing better shooting opportunities whether it’s with the camera or the gun. After some experimentation last fall, I can attest that this method is effective and I’m excited to get back out this spring to test it further.
Pro tip: If you’re out running your pointing dog on birds this spring, try circling ahead of the dog on every point before working your way back towards the dog. Circle wider and farther than you think you might need to; if the bird is truly pinned it’s not going anywhere. If you cut in front of the dog too early, it’s more likely the bird will run out from the point and/or flush lower. If you are successful in pinning the bird, when it flushes pay attention to what happens and what kind of shot opportunities it presents. You might be surprised!
Understanding the Timing and “Quiet Periods”
The spring training season is ultimately dictated by a number of factors. If you live in ruffed grouse country, you can begin as soon as the snow melts, usually some time in March for many people. Sometime after that, the woodcock will begin filtering in. That is when the spring training season hits its peak, typically in the first half of April. During this time there are plenty of birds around, temperatures are beginning to warm and the forest is awakening. It’s an appealing time of year to be in the woods, but it can also prove to be valuable for both the upland hunter and the bird dog alike.
It doesn’t last long, however, as the birds will soon begin to nest. I can’t stress this enough: Please abide by the “quiet periods” for your own state. Be sure to check your local regulations, but in many states quiet periods begin around the 15th of April. From the time they begin to the time they end, in mid to late summer, it is unlawful in most areas to run your dog off leash where wild birds could be found. Furthermore, migration, nesting and brooding are influenced by many variables and do not always coincide with the regulation book. If you discover any evidence of nesting birds it is advised that you leave the area and do not return.
Every day I spend in the woods is a good day, and I consider myself lucky every time the dog and I step out of the truck and into wild bird cover. The spring training season is another chance to do just that, and the benefits for you and your dog are countless. I encourage you to get out in the woods this spring. Explore new territory, focus on the dog, focus on the birds and pay attention to the beauty that surrounds you. For most upland hunters, myself included, the fall season is the pinnacle and highlight of our year. While the spring training season will never replace the fall, it can certainly help you pass the time until autumn returns once again.
Nick Larson is brand communications director at Northwoods Collective. He is also the host and creator of the Project Upland Podcast. He and his family, which includes a pair of English setters, reside in Duluth, Minnesota. Naturally, his favorite pursuit is upland bird hunting. From the northern forests of the upper great lakes to the prairies of the west, he chases adventure across the uplands wherever his bird dogs and the people he meets inspire him to go.