For some hunters, only the unique 'timberdoodle' will do

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2013 - 5:03 PM

The woodcock is a bonus bird for many hunters. Only a precious few consider it their priority.

hide

Forest dwellers, woodcock prefer moist ground that they can penetrate with their long beaks, feeding often on worms. Areas with aspen regrowth are especially popular with them.

Photo: Star Tribune file,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

It’s a weird-looking bird with a too-long beak and large eyes set high on its head, as if someone assembled it with spare parts.

But fans of woodcock admire the little robin-sized game bird for its distinctiveness and erratic dipsy-doodle flight — which makes shooting them on the wing so challenging.

And, despite a questionable reputation as table fare by some people, “timberdoodle” hunters also tout them as good eatin’.

“They are such unique birds, a shorebird that lives in the forest, beautiful, with their spring courtship sky dance,’’ said Tom Cooper, an avid woodcock hunter and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s migratory bird division in Bloomington. “I enjoy hunting them. They are tough to hit, that’s for sure.’’

Cooper rejects the notion they are unpalatable.

“They do have a bit of a liver flavor; I marinate them in Italian dressing and grill them,” he said. “The key is to not overcook. They’re pretty tasty.’’

Minnesota’s woodcock season opened Saturday and runs through Nov. 4. New this year: A federal change boosts the possession limit to nine birds, triple the three-bird daily limit.

While many ruffed grouse hunters will encounter woodcock in thick, young aspen stands, and will sometimes shoot them as “bonus’’ birds, hunters like Cooper specifically target timberdoodles, and view grouse as ancillary action.

The heavy leaf cover in September makes bagging woodcock even more difficult.

“It’s tough hunting the first couple of weeks,’’ Cooper said.

Hunters are shooting mostly local birds, but woodcock range far into Canada, and when they migrate through Minnesota — the peak generally is in mid-October — the action can be hot.

“I’ve seen 30 to 40 flushes in a couple of hours,’’ said Cooper, 42, who does woodcock research and helps compile the Fish and Wildlife Service’s national woodcock population status report. “Just like duck hunting, you have to be there when they are there.’’

A niche species

Until last year, an average of about 12,000 Minnesota hunters pursued woodcock annually. The estimated number of hunters hit 14,000 last fall, up from 10,000 in 2011 and the highest in 12 years. Those hunters shot about 32,000 birds, the most since 2009. Nationally, hunters bagged about 280,000 woodcock.

Steve Merchant, Department of Natural Resources wildlife program manager, said he has no explanation for the apparent 40 percent increase in woodcock hunters last year.

“I’m skeptical,’’ he said. The information comes from the DNR’s annual small game hunter survey, and he has asked his staff to review the data.

Regardless, woodcock hunters are a niche species, like their quarry. In comparison, there were an estimated 97,000 ruffed grouse hunters, 90,000 duck hunters and 84,000 pheasant hunters last year.

Population healthy, for now

Woodcock are found from Minnesota to the East Coast and from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada. Their population has been stable over the past 10 years, following a downward trend likely caused by a loss of young aspen, key habitat.

“Minnesota is one of the states we’ve actually had a stable trend since the beginning,’’ Cooper said.

Logging for the state’s forest products industry has created and maintained young aspen stands here. The birds feel safe in the thick cover, using their long bills to probe into soft earth for worms and bugs.

“Woodcock like the dense regrowth of the forest after disturbance, whether from fire or logging,’’ Cooper said.

Most of the woodcock moving through Minnesota spend the winter in Louisiana. One concern here is the recent decline in the state’s forest products industry, which could result in diminished habitat for woodcock and ruffed grouse.

Unraveling mysteries

Despite years of research, much isn’t known about woodcock.

“We don’t know a lot about their migration,’’ Cooper said. “How long it takes them to get from Minnesota to Louisiana, how many stops they make along the way and how long they stay at different staging areas.’’

Cooper and fellow researchers are experimenting with tiny GPS transmitters that they plan to affix to some woodcock this fall to answer some of those questions. “We’re testing the technology first,’’ Cooper said.

The transmitters, which weigh about 9 grams (about one-third of an ounce), use solar batteries.

“When the birds are in thick cover, we don’t know if they will get enough sunlight to charge them,’’ Cooper said. “It’s a long ways from being operational. But if it works, we will find out a lot about woodcock.’’

  • 2013 woodcock season

    Sept. 21-Nov.4

    Daily bag limit is three and the possession limit is nine, a change from previous years.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 35 FINAL
Arizona 6
Denver 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 108 FINAL
Toronto 118
Memphis 91 FINAL
Cleveland 105
Boston 84 FINAL
Miami 100
Detroit 105 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
LA Lakers 101 FINAL
Sacramento 108
Philadelphia 96 FINAL
Orlando 88
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Washington 92
Indiana 100 FINAL
Minnesota 96
New Orleans 101 FINAL
Oklahoma City 99
Colorado 2 FINAL(SO)
Detroit 1
Dallas 6 FINAL(SO)
Edmonton 5
Buffalo 3 FINAL(OT)
Boston 4
Carolina 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 1
Toronto 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL(OT)
Winnipeg 3
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 69 FINAL
Army 72
Ferris State 82 FINAL
Bowling Green 68
San Francisco 65 FINAL
Cleveland State 69
Oregon State 52 FINAL
Quinnipiac 60
Coastal Carolina 72 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Canisius 67
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
Georgia State 68
Western Carolina 66 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 62
Creighton 58 FINAL
North Texas 62
Maryland 73 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
Cornell 61 FINAL
Radford 74
Vermont 55 FINAL
Saint Louis 58
Loyola-Maryland 52 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Reinhardt 72 FINAL
Winthrop 100
Ark-Little Rock 46 FINAL
Green Bay 66
TX-Pan American 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 77
Alabama State 63 FINAL
Evansville 81
FIU 69 FINAL
Hartford 82
Goshen 55 FINAL
Valparaiso 82
Bryant 48 FINAL
Denver 46
Austin Peay 63 FINAL
Lipscomb 69
Tennessee St 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
South Dakota 67 FINAL
Montana 62
ULM 50 FINAL
Samford 64
Coker 52 FINAL
South Carolina 78
USC 75 FINAL
Boston College 71
Northern Ariz 66 FINAL
Hampton 75
SD Christian 61 FINAL
San Diego 71
UC Irvine 55 FINAL
Bradley 47
Troy 65 FINAL
Nicholls 64
Seton Hall 47 FINAL
Georgia 65
Appalachian St 59 FINAL
Alabama 60
North Dakota St 52 FINAL
Kent State 53
San Jose St 53 FINAL
Washington St 82
Alcorn State 45 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
Sacramento St 47 FINAL
Seattle 66
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Cal-Irvine 55 FINAL
Denver 63
St Marys-CA 52 FINAL
George Washington 70
TX-San Antonio 49 FINAL
Nicholls 57
Portland State 71 FINAL
Columbia 66
Tenn Tech 62 FINAL
Morgan State 56
SMU 43 FINAL
Auburn 56
Quinnipiac 70 FINAL
Hartford 58
Hofstra 75 FINAL
Boston College 61
Eastern Washington 55 FINAL
Georgia Southern 42
Liberty 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 84
Fairleigh Dickinson 74 FINAL
Brown 79
Buffalo 73 FINAL
Long Island 79
Bucknell 74 FINAL
Mount St Marys 49
Stony Brook 70 FINAL
Wagner 76
FIU 83 FINAL
Wofford 75
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Providence 67
Maine 54 FINAL
William & Mary 51
Alabama State 43 FINAL
Samford 56
TX-Pan American 43 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 64
South Dakota St 64 FINAL
Marist 82
Saint Josephs 50 FINAL
(5) Notre Dame 64
Radford 60 FINAL
Virginia Tech 73
(3) Texas 67 FINAL
(4) Texas A&M 65
Rhode Island 60 FINAL
Bryant 56
South Florida 90 FINAL
Penn State 87
Sam Houston St 55 FINAL
TCU 79
Evansville 50 FINAL
IUPUI 62
(14) Maryland 110 FINAL
Coppin State 51
Mercer 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 72
NC A&T 43 FINAL
Chattanooga 58
Princeton 84 FINAL
Monmouth 53
Eastern Illinois 69 FINAL
Lehigh 72
Rider 67 FINAL
Binghamton 72
SC State 57 FINAL
Clemson 66
Fairfield 63 FINAL
Iowa State 76
Richmond 70 FINAL
Eastern Kentucky 56
Cleveland State 80 FINAL
Morehead St 72
Kent State 62 FINAL
Colgate 61
South Alabama 43 FINAL
UAB 73
Saint Peters 35 FINAL
Navy 71
Youngstown St 52 FINAL
Pittsburgh 78
NJIT 50 FINAL
Lafayette 66
Davidson 51 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Indiana State 73 FINAL
St Johns 67
Southern U 49 FINAL
Florida 78
Wright State 46 FINAL
Purdue 70
(19) Oklahoma St 66 FINAL
USC 62
Houston 54 FINAL
Texas Tech 60
Ark-Little Rock 66 FINAL
Tulsa 59
Dayton 71 FINAL
Vanderbilt 67
Northern Ariz 37 FINAL
New Mexico 56
UNC-Asheville 60 FINAL
USC Upstate 67
North Dakota 81 FINAL
South Dakota 86
Western Ill 57 FINAL
Marquette 65
Elon 67 FINAL
(6) North Carolina 85
Ball State 59 FINAL
Western Ky 84
(8) Kentucky 68 FINAL
(13) Duke 89
New Orleans 58 FINAL
Alabama 87
Chicago State 47 FINAL
Milwaukee 69
Bowling Green 61 FINAL
Bradley 47
Ill-Springfield 56 FINAL
SE Missouri St 73
Northern Ill 42 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
(23) Iowa 100 FINAL
Drake 98
Central Michigan 64 FINAL
Minnesota 67
Western Carolina 45 FINAL
North Florida 62
Wyoming 71 FINAL
Colorado 76
Portland 58 FINAL
Boise State 94
Cal Poly 63 FINAL
Colorado State 65
No Dakota State 54 FINAL
Grand Canyon 69
Albany 71 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 49
Oklahoma 64 FINAL
Arkansas 71
Idaho State 63 FINAL
Seattle 55
(18) Michigan State 89 FINAL
(19) Syracuse 76
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Arizona State 88
TX-Arlington 46 FINAL
North Texas 38
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Oregon 59
St Francis-PA 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 72
UNLV 71 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 74
UCLA 50 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 86
(10) Louisville 70 FINAL
(24) California 57
Howard 53 FINAL
Virginia 74
Miami-Ohio 42 FINAL
(21) Miss State 68
Illinois-Chicago 55 FINAL
Old Dominion 61
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close