The Isle of Woodcock, Part 2.

Standing in the gathering Hebridean gloom, a chill breeze blowing in from the sea, I strain my eyes to try to pick up the first, dark, batlike silhouettes, of flighting Woodcock.
The darkening sky.

I pull up my collar against the chill, and raise the peak of my tweed cap a little, so that it won’t obscure my vision. Since the sun began to set on this short Winter’s day on Skye – the temperature has plummeted. I feel the cold sting of the 20 bore’s barrels through my fingers – but having never been keen on shooting in gloves, I am content to bear it.

“THERE. On your left” cries a voice. It’s my girlfriend Emma, who all this time has been standing at my right shoulder. She has spotted the first flighting bird !.
In one movement I mount the gun, and swing on and through the jinking, fluttering ‘Cock’ – momentarily I lose sight of my target, against the dark wall of the Spruce forest before us. Then there he is again, and this time no mistake. I pick him up over the muzzles against the darkening sky, swing and fire.
At the shot he crumples, and seconds later I hear the reassuring, ‘Thud’, as he hits the heather, somewhere in the darkness behind us. “One in the bag”, I think to myself. No time to dwell however – and I quickly eject the empty cartridge case, and re-load the little 20 bore.

As I do so, I hear a double shot, quickly followed by a single, away to my right. There are 5 guns in our party, and I hope that the others are sharing my good fortune. As I raise the little side by side, and rest it’s butt upon the leather cartridge belt, around my waist – I catch a glimmer ahead of me, just above the towering blackness of the Spruce belt. “IN FRONT”, shouts Emma – but before the words are fully out, my gun is already mounted – the shot taken – and the inert Woodcock, is falling earthward before us.

“A brace in the bag now”.I can relax a little. Three more single shots to my right. The boys must be seeing plenty of birds ?.
The light has nearly gone altogether now – and I know that we will have to stop shooting, and pick up with the dogs, in five minutes or so.
Scanning the sky to my left, I luckily pick up the outline of another bird heading out of the woods to feed. This time however, my lead isn’t quite so good, and I miss him behind with the first barrel. Moving my feet, ( as good shooting stems from good footwork ) I follow him, and swing through mightily, and fire. He too tumbles earthward. Emma pats me on the shoulder, and whispers, “Good shot”. I realise that she must be as cold as I am, but she is beaming with excitement.

Reloaded, and straining to see against the now starlit sky above, I hear a ripple of two double, followed by a single shot, from the right hand side of the wood. I try to imagine how my companions are shooting – but knowing what good shots they are, realise that they will have a few birds to pick.

“Can’t be long to go now”, I think to myself – and as I do – yet another woodcock flits out of the trees, like a large jinking bat, attempting to reach it’s nocturnal, moorland feeding. I know that Em has spotted it too, as she quickly plugs her ears with her fingers.
In a flash, I throw the gun to my shoulder – swing through the dark shape, and fire. A snap shot of the Robert Churchill school, if ever there was one !. Much to my astonishment, Em shouts, “GOT HIM !” – and I thank my lucky stars. Just at that moment, I hear Mike the Gamekeeper call that it is time for us to stop shooting, and pick up with the dogs.
Nocturnal picking up.

The Lady handlers, who throughout the day, have worked so hard with their pointers, now go into action to collect the fallen birds. Although we can scarcely see the picking up – we can hear whistles and commands, coming out of the darkness. I sleeve the 20 bore – and myself and Emma make our way over the moor, and back to the the waiting vehicles.

As we pass through the forestry gate, and meet the other members of our shooting party, we are delighted to learn, that the 15 minutes spent flighting Woodcock out of their daytime, forestry haunts, has added 9 more of these magical birds, to the bag.
The shooting party homeward bound.

Both guns and dog handlers are stamping their feet against the cold, and decide that the place to be now, is before a roaring log fire, Malt Whisky in hand, ensconced in our cosy, Highland Hotel !.

Who am I to argue ?!.
“Slaint’e”.
Yours in sport,
Scolopax.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Sounds wonderful! Where do I sign up? I’ve been crammed into the back of a truck like that before, but I was wearing Army Greens!

  2. Scolopax says:

    Well Shawn – I can only hope that your truck smelled better than ours ?. Oh, the aroma of wet, boggy dog !.Scolopax.

  3. Andy W. says:

    Sounds like pretty good shooting on your part and in the fading light too. I’m impressed! Do you enjoy the pass shooting as much as the rough shooting with the dogs? Andy

  4. I’m with Shawn, where do I sign up? That sounds wonderful and quite challenging too.Looking forward to more of your hunting stories.

  5. Quite different from our experience here with woodcock. All our shooting is done over dogs in my experience. Actually seeing a flighting woodcock in the covers I used to hunt would have been a near-miracle!Are they more concentrated there because of terrain/ocean parameters? Are there regular flyways, sort of like the paths ducks fly here on certain marshes? Please tell us more.

  6. Scolopax says:

    Andy. It’s hard to compare shooting Woodcock over the dogs, with flighting the birds at dusk. Kind of like trying to comparing a good red wine, with a cold beer, on a hot day. Both wonderful in their own way !.More than half my pleasure from shooting, comes from watching good dogs work well. It’s magical !.Scolopax

  7. Scolopax says:

    Hi Walter, Yes – the birds tend to flight down forestry fire breaks. Kind of like a aircraft using a runway. The trick – if there is one – is to place one’s self at the bottom of a break, where it runs out onto moorland, or farmland. As for your earlier question regarding pin feathers. Yes, I have plenty !.Thanks.Scolopax.

  8. Nice to see at least one good red-dog in the back with the rest of the crew!Chasing timberdoodles over here is a very different prospect, indeed.all bestAndrew

  9. Scolopax, it’s taken me a long time to get to read this, but I’m so glad I did. Great story, and I look forward to reading many more!

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