Reassuring news at last. It is many ST readers’ opinion that woodcock numbers in the UK and Ireland have increased since early January. However, there are still some troubled woodcock shooters both in the UK and Europe. Numbers in Brittany remain low, while in eastern France there are a lot of birds at the 1,000m and above level.
I received a report of a field trial held in Norway in early January, which encountered so many woodcock it became problematic.
From Turkey, Omer Borovali of the Turkish Woodcock Club concluded that it had been a poor season up until December. It seems the birds simply did not migrate due to the mild weather. In contrast, Switzerland has had its best season ever, which is indicative of birds staying at unusually high altitudes.
However, it may be the case that woodcock hunters in the western fringes of the British Isles are in for a bumper end of season given the “normal” winter weather of snow and frost, which set in during the week commencing 22 January. It would seem that my prediction of a season condensed into the last weeks of January may have come true. In Ireland and Wales there has already been a huge jump in numbers since mid-January.
Tony Kiernan, that doyen of Irish wodcock shooters, is not at all dismayed by this year’s woodcock situation. Referring to his records over the past six seasons, he is confident there are as many woodcock in his part of Ireland as usual. He reported: From statistical analysis (over the past six seasons), I can confirm that birds are being flushed at 91 per cent of last year’s rate. Considering the inclement weather we have experienced, I consider it a very good year. Tony is an experienced shooting man and he blames the weather. He concluded: One must remember the usual places we meet woodcock. They come out of dry drains at the edge of bogs. Where in Ireland could you find a dry drain now? If you wish to see birds, you need to go to dry places and on wet days woodcock will be in secluded, dry places and
will be reluctant to fly.
Dave Egan, from the west of Ireland, is another sportsman who has experienced an upturn in his sport. In the period from 13 to 19 January, he and his fellow shooters encountered 60 woodcock for 32 shot. Dave’s view was: This is due to the wet weather slackening and the recent cold winds sending the woodcock into somewhat predictable locations. We have had moderate winds and heavy falls of hailstones, making it what I would call good for ‘cock. In the south west, “Cock Robin” was rather more pessimistic, saying: There are woodcock about but no reports of fresh falls yet.
The weather has been a huge factor with the recent gale-force winds and driving rain just not conducive to the birds getting into any kind of routine. Further north, in County Donegal, Damian Kelly also noticed more birds in the past couple of weeks.
In early January, Mike Swan agreed that most sportsmen were not seeing woodcock in anything like the numbers of the 2005/2006 season. However, his instincts were: I have a feeling that more have turned up over the past week or so. I was pleasantly surprised at the numbers we flushed from bracken and rush beds on a roughshooting day in the Trough of Bowland.
By 10 January, Charles Fearn was also seeing more woodcock: Out today, lifted 15 for seven shot. Robert Tilney, in northern quarters, was keeping a careful eye on woodcock at the Redisham Hall and Roos Hall shoots. It was either a case of the Guns slowly attaining form or there were more woodcock about as the bag increased slowly throughout January. However, Robert noted that on the same dates, for the same drives, they saw more woodcock in the 2005/2006 season.
By 16 January, Mike Appleby, headkeeper on the Honeycombe shoot, and a man who loves woodcock, claimed: A definite improvement over the past couple of weeks, with woodcock
on all drives.
The Okehampton Woodcock Club Guns were also enjoying better sport. Barry Fudge, shoot captain, confirmed: Yes, there are definitely more around. During their shoot on 18 January, the Okehampton Guns flushed 50 woodcock for 10 shot. An update on 25 January from Mike Appleby supported this suggestion of an increase: Shot yesterday and today. A great influx of woodcock present on each drive and in some areas in the same number as last year a huge improvement.
In early January even the best of woodcock hunters were still having a frustrating time. Mike Sherman reported: There are woodcock here, but very sporadic. Only in numbers for two or three days and then they are gone. We only flushed 12 on Boxing Day and 15 on New Year’s Day. This last place is only shot once a year and we usually flush 40-plus.
In early January, I joined Mike and other guests to shoot some prime woodcock territory. We flushed 13 woodcock for one shot, but everyone had an opportunity. Sport was equally poor in the Vale of Glamorgan, where Mark Hinge reported few woodcock. In mid-January, Williams, Williams, Jones and Co were enjoying good sport with woodcock. On 13 January, they flushed 15 for seven shot.
The weekend of 13 to 14 January clearly represented an upturn in woodcock numbers across the traditional wintering areas in Wales. Prior to this date, the more positive reports emanated from above a line north of Aberystwyth.
On 13 January, a day of winds gusting to 50mph, I enjoyed one of my best days ever. The woodcock were favouring high and dry banks of gorse and, when flushed, came zipping down with the wind behind them. One bird shot dead in the air was blown approximately 20 yards forwards and 15 yards to my left. There were woodcock everywhere.
For the period of 13 to 20 January, Williams, Williams, Jones and Co flushed 59 woodcock for 23 shot. On 23 January, this team of Guns flushed a further 25 woodcock for 12 shot, including another witnessed right-and-left for Eifion Williams. Interestingly enough, Mike Sherman was also a happy man on 22 January.
John Irving, in Ayrshire, has become one of the broadcast’s most avid reporters. In fact, he has enthused the whole of the beating team on the Blairquhan shoot and many of the Guns also:
The beaters and Guns are aware of my interest in woodcock and are coming forward during and after the shoot with numbers seen. On our last shoot there were quite a few seen. Now, when they hear a shout of “woodcock”, everyone’s looking to see them.
By 17 January, Rob Wainwright thought woodcock numbers were: Not too bad, but I’m not sure that many more have arrived since late November. Numbers are okay. We flushed 19 on our last day.
A somewhat more upbeat Michael MacKenzie on the Isle of Skye carefully suggested. There do seem to be a few more birds around but I’m not convinced we have them in usual numbers. From 3 to 6 January, we flushed 157 woodcock. The weather has remained mild and extremely wet. A similar picture was painted by other ST readers across Scotland. A dismal and damp New Year had not been conducive to finding concentrated numbers of woodcock.
At the time of writing it is clear from informants across the British Isles and Ireland that expectations of a bumper final week of the season are running high. Given the miniature arctic blast of the week commencing 22 January, it will be interesting to hear how the last 10 days of the season will pan out. In addition, there will be a concerted effort to get out there and make the best of what is left of the woodcock season. After all, it is a long wait until 1 October.
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