Woodcock Holes

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

January 2009

Bird hunters, it’s now time to improve your favorite woodcock covert. I had never really considered taking time to improve woodcock coverts until I hunted a few years ago with an old experienced guide in New Brunswick, Canada.

After my September column, where we talked about finishing your pointing dog, I received an email from a New Hampshire reader who had this to say: “I guess I don’t have a fancy bird dog since it’s an English setter mix, but I have fun with my dog and we manage to shoot a few grouse. She’s a flusher rather than a pointer. Any suggestions?”

Here’s how I answered this reader’s email: First, it is important that you’re having fun with your dog. That’s the bottom line. I encouraged readers to finish their pointing dogs because I feel you can even have more fun with a finished dog, and it’s a more safe way to hunt. Actually, since most of our New England Ruffed Grouse are runners, a flushing dog can provide many thrills. To be a successful grouse hunter with a flushing dog, it absolutely must be a close working dog. You’ll never get a shot at a grouse with a big running flushing dog. A finished flushing dog is also steady to wing and shot. It is trained to sit or stay on the flush and stays until released by the handler. I hope this is helpful.

Another reader made reference to my November column where I asked Stephen Rafe about the “force retrieve”. The reader asked if this is the same as “force breaking.” Well, the end goal is the same but it might be done a little differently. I avoid using the word break or breaking because it suggests breaking a dog’s will or spirit. I’ve seen and/or heard the process called force training, force shaping, force retrieving and force fetching. A trainer friend tells me I’m all wet about breaking the dog’s spirit…it really means breaking the dog of bad habits. I’ll cover retrieving in more detail in later columns.

Bird hunters, it’s now time to improve your favorite woodcock covert. I had never really considered taking time to improve woodcock coverts until I hunted a few years ago with an old experienced guide in New Brunswick, Canada. He had been guiding woodcock and grouse hunters for almost 50 years. He explained that flight birds look for “holes” in the cover. They want to land in an open area. They then walk into the thick cover only a few feet to rest for the day. My guide friend further explained that old time Canadian guides who made a living from guiding sports and their dogs, would go into coverts this time of the year and cut holes 10 to 15 feet in diameter. They would keep them trimmed every year and would always find more woodcock around these “holes” than any other spot. Of course, their reason for doing the trimming now is that the spring migration will also use these holes and then re-use them on the return trip in the fall. Also, by cutting your holes now, you’ll improve your opportunity to train your pointing dog this spring.

In last month’s column, I had mentioned that Dillon (my GSP) and I would be hunting upstate New York in early December. Unfortunately, the lake affect snow coming off Lake Ontario left about 18” of snow in the area we were going to hunt so we cancelled our trip. Hopefully I can make the trip next year.

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