After my first ever evening woodcock flight, I can safely say that I’m hooked. The past two nights of reconnaissance certainly paid off, as well as similar weather conditions which meant that the birds flew the same lines at almost precisely the same times, give or take five minutes. With three guns lined up along the side of a seven hundred yard block of ten year old sitka spruce trees, we waited for a quarter of an hour before the first bird appeared – directly infront of me and passing from right to left above a low willow tree. I missed with the first shot but somehow managed to connect with the second as the woodcock turned suddenly into a narrow frozen ride. The shot folded him up and he plopped into the moss. As I went to pick him, I heard shots from the other guns – it seems to be a characteristic of woodcock flighting – that the activity is very frantic for a very short period of time.
During my reconnaissance missions, I’ve seen multiple birds all in the sky at once, as if they leave the ground together and move in a loose formation. Aside from the occasional early bird and straggler, all the birds seem to move within three or four minutes, and it was interesting that the birds at the top of the hill decided to move precisely at the same time as the birds at the bottom. It’s as if roosting woodcock suddenly notice a switch flick in their heads and decide to move at precisely the same time. It’s far more unified than ducks flighting into a pond, and it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s the same elsewhere on the farm and during the rest of this season. Infact, judging from what I’ve seen, woodcock flight about a quarter of an hour before duck, just when the colour goes and everything becomes monochromatic. They are black silhouettes, finely detailed, unlike duck which come in as dark shapes against a deep blue sky.
The gun at the bottom of the hill had also managed to bring down a woodcock, so we came back in with a brace in the bag. Nobody ever wants to kill any great number of woodcock, and flighting is a good way of seeing them move naturally through the landscape, providing an opportunity here and there to bring one down, but never more than a brace or two. There is a certain amount of controversy here and there about the propriety of shooting woodcock as they flight, and this has its basis in the idea that it is somehow unsporting.
We three guns all agreed this evening that the birds that we saw were every bit as difficult to shoot as woodcock which have been put up by beaters, and rather than run the gauntlet with a net of carefully positioned guns who stand in broad daylight and have probably heard the beaters shout “‘cock!”, they have to contend with a few guns who are half-baked, unsure of what to expect and shrouded in half darkness. Flighting woodcock do not (according to some) fly slowly or in straight lines – they sweep purposefully through the trees on silent wings – some high up like pigeons on their way home to roost and others low and jerkily like a bird that has just been missed by the first barrel. They have the magic of a wild bird, and there’s as much fun in seeing them fly as there is in raising your gun to them.
I’m now in the thrilling position of having a brace of woodcock, and it’s just a matter of working out how I’d like to cook them.