Alder runs or stands of popple or aspen create obstacles for walking let alone for shooting.
And when the season finally arrives it is no surprise how quickly your dog gets birdy and locks up on point. Instinctively you look for an opening in the dense cover that will allow for a clear shot at the quick flying timberdoole. Alas, the pine got in the way so much so that it soaked up your entire shot pattern. What happened to the ‘doodle? It flew away unscathed. Those adjectives you used to describe the new covert earlier are replaced with far more colorful expletives.
Woodcock hunters are keenly aware of the trees and obstacles that comprise ideal coverts. The style of shooting that accompanies thick covert has evolved into a method of poke and hope. A quick snapshot is taken when the blur presents itself in that small narrow lane on which the shooter is focused. This type of shooting is a low percentage game of luck. When hunting woodcock we need all the help we can get, and a preferable method is called “there are no trees.”
A hunter walks the edge of an aspen stand while the dog works the cover.
We shooters have two types of vision. One type is a clear, sharp and intensely focused view, and it represents a small percentage of what we see. Such focus is what we use to see nothing but the bird, or is it? If our view is incredibly focused then we are likely to fall into the poke and hope method of shooting. Luck is what we have when the clear picture of open cover with the bird in the middle. A snap shot delivered at that time drops the bird.
Want to see a grown man or woman cry? Missing several rising birds in the full foliage of primary and secondary growth coverts might be the reason.
Our second type of vision is a peripheral and subconscious awareness. Our view in this realm is similar to the way you keep track of the double yellow line in the center of the road when driving. We have an awareness of the line but our focus is on the car ahead of us.
Subconscious vision informs us of a good opportunity while we maintain a strong focus on the bird. Since we’re concentrating on the target we tune out the dense cover, a fact that allows us to increase our focus on the bird.
Snap shooting in an alder run is fast, and with open chokes and light loads it's deadly.
This technique is easily used when practicing on sporting clays or skeet targets in the wide open. The technique used begins when the lead hand, which is always the forehand, points and follows the clay targets’ flight line. As your forehand moves forward, the rear gun mount hand follows suit and begins sliding the gun to the cheek. When the stock touches your cheek you’ll squeeze the trigger win or lose. There will be times that the timing of firing the gun and the woodcock going behind the tree are unfortunately perfect. But what will surprise you is how consistently your lab brings back a dead woodcock. The fact that the muzzles are drawing the birds flight path when fired and that your shot pattern is stringing out slightly, allows the bird to run into the tail end of the string.
Rebel, an English Setter, froze on point with his hind leg in the air. He did his job now it's up to the shooter to do his.
A great way to prepare for the distractions of thick cover hunting is to first start out in the open with a clay thrower and your hunting buddy. Work on the typical angles and distances common to woodcock coverts. Then challenge your focus by moving into the woods, throwing the same angle and distances, practice seeing the target with the same clarity regardless of the obstacles. The mental practice of “tuning out” is very common in all sports. The discipline it takes to eliminate distractions for a basketball player shooting free throws or a baseball batter at an away game in a full stadium is practiced as much as the technique.
Remember “there are no trees.”
Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.