With cute, black-button eyes and a characteristically long, thin beak, woodcock birds are easy to identify, but not so easy to find. Their preferred habitats are lightly forested areas, with plenty of shrubs to nest and hide in and moist terrain where plenty of earthworms, their favorite snack, reside. Their brown and tan feathers allow them to blend in expertly while staying cozy and safe in thick brush. In addition to their camouflage, woodcocks are known as remarkably composed, making them difficult for hunters to scare into the air so that they can aim for a flying target.
All of these reasons help explain why woodcocks are a popular game bird; the challenge makes the hunt all the more fun and rewarding. It's these reasons also, however, that many hunters prefer the company of a dog when hunting specifically for these ground-nesting birds. The canine nose allows for the ability to smell out the bird rather than finding it by sight, and its loud bark serves better to flush or scare the game into the air.
Your hunting companion most likely already knows basic commands such as 'no', 'stay', 'heel', 'here' and 'whoa'. All of these are essential to a hunter's verbal toolbox and when uttered their loyal dog performs trained tasks to help in the hunting and retrieving processes.
For the task of hunting for woodcock, it may not be that new verbal commands are added to this toolbox, but that some already existing ones are brought more to the forefront or revisited so that your dog's strength in that command is elevated.
The woodcock's keen sense to hide in brush rather than an open field combined with his stubbornness to leave the roost will give your hunting dog a new challenge. The good news is with the right attitude and dedicated amount of time, dogs of any breed and age can be taught to hunt for woodcock.
An extra dose of time spent outdoors will need to be part of your routine schedule in the coming months, especially in young wooded areas near rivers or lakes, where woodcock are typically present. Even hiking through these habitats without the intention of hunting is helpful to you and your dog, giving them time to become accustomed to layouts and scents.
The most important thing to remember is to be patient, both with yourself and your loyal friend. No hunt is ever the same; conditions are ever-changing and some days you may be more or less pleased with your dog's progress than others. Try not to look at it as a step backward or forward, but simply part of the process and part of the fun of hunting and learning together.