Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports Columnists

November 1, 2013

Bob Gwizdz: Go north for woodcock?

Ask anyone; woodcock are birds of the north woods, right? Go north, young man.

But when you look at it from a more national, less Michigan-centric perspective, well, southern Michigan pretty much is the north woods, isn’t it?

I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for some time now and two recent hunts, both conducted well south of Clare, have solidified my feelings on the subject.

Just a little less than a week shy of the pheasant opener, I spent the better part of the day hunting with Chuck Riley, a pretty dedicated bird hunter who has championed southern Michigan woodcock for years. We started out northwest of Lansing (where Riley lives) and wound up northeast, hunting two different state game areas. The hunting was fine.

At our first spot, we put up nine woodcock in three hours — certainly not gangbusters, but a similar flush rate to what I’d recently experienced while hunting near Mio. And though I lost count of our flush rate at the next game area, it was of the same magnitude.

“Why should I drive 150 miles when I can kill a limit of woodcock within 50 miles?” Riley asked.

The guy has a point, eh?

Riley is active with the local chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society, which is putting time and money into improving the woodcock habitat at a couple of in southern Michigan game areas. He says, frankly, that southern Michigan woodcock have been too long ignored, while management efforts have been expended on other species.

Riley has plenty of ammunition to back up his perspective on the suitability of southern Michigan habitat for woodcock. Of the 65 to 80-something woodcock he bands each spring, 75 percent are found in southern Michigan, despite his regular soirees to the Houghton Lake area, he said. Similarly, despite a 10-day trip ‘Up North” this fall, he’s harvested the bulk of his birds from southern Michigan.

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