Somewhere north of the small town of Norway in Michigan's Upper Peninsula runs a rural road that comes to a "Y." "This Way" and "That Way" read the two wooded boards nailed to the sign. This bit of northwoods humor could just as easily been referring to the twisting which-way-will-I-go flight of the American woodcock.

Equal parts upland bird, waterfowl, helicopter, bat and chopsticks, the annual trek southward is beginning to peak for this migrating identity crisis. Good numbers were spotted in the "U.P." on my annual forest bird hunt there with Pheasants Forever's Bob St.Pierre (native Yooper and grouse aficionado) and company, and the few firsthand grouse reports I've received lately from Minnesota have also mentioned woodcock in the bag.

Matt Kucharski and his Lab, Lucy, prepare for a forest hunt in Michigan's U.P.

Matt Kucharski and his Lab, Lucy, prepare for a forest hunt in Michigan's U.P.


You needn't a tweed coat, side by side shotgun and a pocket plump with pipe tobacco to chase these birds, just grab your 12 or 20 gauge, set the compass due north and mentally pack these "Timberdoodle" facts:

·              Just like ducks and geese, you can track the woodcock migration online. Unfortunately, it's a bit slim on info, so if you've flushed some woodcock, file your report with the Ruffed Grouse Society's National Woodcock Migration Mapping System.

·              Like waterfowl and mourning doves (also a migratory bird), biologists annually "band" some woodcock with a small metal leg bracelet containing an ID and phone numbers. Hunters who harvest birds with bands are asked to call and report a few details about the harvest.

·              Last year, 9,700 Minnesota hunters harvested 16,000 woodcock. The harvest was down from 19,900 in 2008, but the number of hunters increased by 1,000.

Good ruffed grouse habitat is also good woodcock habitat.

Good ruffed grouse habitat is also good woodcock habitat.


·              Google Earth can be used to identify prime woodcock habitat. Like you would grouse hunting, identify the young aspen stands, and you're in business. You can also contact your local state or national forest headquarters and see if they have any data regarding aspen stand locations and ages. Also look to alder thickets/swamps.

·              Woodcock use that long beak to satisfy the main part of their diet – earthworms. Thus, the soil must be moist. If your feet aren't getting damp - even a little wet - you're not in good woodcock habitat.

·              Woodcock, from the time they hatch, learn to "freeze" when threatened, making the sport of hunting them ideally suited for pointing dog breeds.  

·              While shed antler hunting this past spring, I flushed a woodcock in Lac qui Parle County less than 10 miles from the South Dakota border. I emailed Woodcock Minnesota, a local nonprofit that works on conservation issues for the species, about this oddity and a representative informed me that on their spring migration north, woodcock will occasionally use the Red RiverValley as a travel corridor on their way to the breeding grounds in northern Minnesota and Canada.

·              Like so many upland birds, woodcock like edges. Going through the thick stuff builds a sense of pride for many hunters, but is sometimes senseless.

Woodcock will bolt the north country when cold fronts and strong northwest winds arrive, so now's the perfect time to join the small ranks of those searching for the whistling wings of the 'doodle.