Hunting Woodcock In Georgia

Woodcock hunting is not very common in the Southeast, but that doesn't mean they aren't here.

Frank Bowers | November 1, 2017

Millions of these migratory birds head to the southeastern states in late fall and winter (mid November to late December) and stay until mid February or early March. Most woodcock then migrate back to the far north to nest in April and May. Woodcock are often the No. 1 harvested upland bird in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota; yet, in the Southeast, they are seldom hunted—an exception is in Louisiana.

However, in Georgia, I regularly shoot 30 or more each winter on nearby WMAs within two to three hours of Atlanta. They are also quite numerous in other southern states from South Carolina to Arkansas. Woodcock are superb game for bird dog owners, holding well for points and casting very strong scents.

Why are so few woodcock hunted in the southeastern states? Most hunters don’t know where to go or look for these woody brush/shrub lovers. Not only do they need moist or wet brush/shrub areas where probing for earthworms is possible, but they also require nearby open fields with sparse cover for evening and night roosting.

Woodcock probe with their long bills to catch earthworms, so easy probing helps. Most hunters search around creeks and rivers having privet, briars, switch cane, alder and honeysuckle thickets. Other good spots are forest cutover areas and seeps/springs in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I have found huntable numbers in mountain and Piedmont wetland sites of the Southeast where cover is thick with young woody growth. Often, they can be found in 10- to 12-year-old pine stands that have sufficient open spacing that allows briars and honeysuckle to invade. Other good habitats are larger patches of sweetgum or oak seedlings about 2 to 3 inches in diameter and not over 12 to 15 feet in height. Looking behind lake, pond, or beaverdams where wet or damp soil and dense brush occur will also pay dividends. Abandoned old fields growing up in briars and/or hardwood seedlings that are surrounded by woods are also preferred spots, especially if near streams or rivers that do not contain a lot of grass undercover.

Another good source of information for woodcock hot spots are rabbit hunters—check with your rabbit hunting friends. Once a preferred area is found, it is good hunting year after year until the woods get too mature or the young overhead cover disappears.

To be successful on a regular basis, you need a bird dog. Woodcock are excellent game for bird dog owners. However, don’t expect to shoot over 50 percent of those flushed. Once flushed, watch where the bird goes. They seldom fly farther than 50 to 60 yards before landing. Most shots are over pointing dogs and often fly within 25 to 30 yards distance through brush and often around trees. Seldom does one get an unobstructed shot; therefore, open gun chokes are needed, and the preferred shot sizes are 8s or 9s.

You will also need glasses/gloves and briar proof pants to ward off stickers, and it helps to have bells or beepers on your dogs. The hunting season is short, and a daily limit is usually three birds per hunter. Since they are migratory birds, you will need to have a free harvest information permit (HIP) to hunt. Woodcock have dark meat (similar to doves and ducks), and some folks think they taste like liver. However the legs are much lighter in color and have a very good taste.

Do yourself and your dog a favor this fall and try woodcock hunting.

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