Winged Wisdom

by Kate Ahnstrom


   This article started out about ring shoots. Then I switched it to better mental game tactics in the box. Now, it’s almost 10pm CDT and I’m sitting at my laptop in Minnesota bursting with this fabulous edition…. Timberdoodles!

   This week I am in Lake Prior, MN at the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club. The club is a “home away from home” for the pups and I. If you are ever in the neighborhood, you MUST swing by. The property offers over 600ac, event venue, restaurant and bar (think pheasant pot pie and prime rib!), five different sporting clays courses, three different 5-stands (one is even heated) and a full preserve. The Horse & Hunt is basically mecca for me, lol.

  When they booked me to come teach for the fall, I told them this week was really the only option that I still had available. It wasn’t until a few days later when they called me to confirm that they also suggested I come up a few days early to hunt wild birds, especially since the timing is in the heart of the woodcock and grouse season and pheasant would open the weekend before. No need to tell me twice!

  I packed up the truck and brought along Gunner and the two puppies, Faith and Olivia now 10 months old. We arrived early afternoon Wednesday Oct. 18th and popped over to a WMA just around the corner. The pups got into a woodcock and managed to find a rooster wandering around. This was just a warm-up though for the big event the next day. 

  Thursday morning by 5am the pups and I were headed a couple hours north to grouse and woodcock country. Nikki, events manager for the Horse & Hunt was kind enough to guide me and even allow me access to a few of her “hot spots”. Gunner was ready to go along with Nikki’s two setters. The puppies would have to sit this one out as I wanted to shoot and connect with a bird not run after two bird crazy puppies through the thick cover we were headed into for the morning. 

  Within 10 minutes we flushed three grouse! As grouse hunting goes, it’s super quick and thick and connecting is tough. They are the “king of upland birds” for a very good reason. As we pushed on, the dogs were getting birdy again and this time on the edge of a swampy area that looked perfect for woodcock, and it was. 

  Nikki’s setter locked up and the other dogs quickly moved in for a back. The bird wasn’t having it and popped through thick cover and got the heck out of there. No worries, dogs were back on point! This time, I just happened to be in the perfect spot and as the doodle rocketed past me, he folded up with Annie hot on his heels for the retrieve. 

  Nikki and I walked about four miles, which may not sound like a ton until you factor in the terrain. Woodcock love thick, wet cover. The migration is headed to Virginia, and I can’t wait to get back on these fun little birds again. If you too are anticipating the migration, peruse through the highlights below to make your adventure even more rewarding and successful.

  Get your steps in now. You will need your stamina to push through that thick cover and still be able to properly mount your gun and have your wits about you when you shoot. Wobbly legs and noodle arms will keep you from connecting on a woodcock.

  Keep your dog steady. We had over a dozen flushes on just woodcock but unfortunately, one of the setters wasn’t particularly steady and would try to steal point. This put too much pressure on the bird and would often cause it to pop before we could get up to the point.

  Breath. The slower you move your gun the faster you drop your birds. If you rush the shot, you won’t mount correctly, your sight picture will be off and the bird will get away. Take that half second to truly see the bird and not just whip BB’s at it.

  Keep it light. Woodcock are easy to drop (once you connect) and only need a smaller gauge with a lighter load. I put my Syren Tempio 20 ga. to the test and it served me quite well. I used 3/4oz load in #7. A 12 ga. is really overkill for these zippy little birds. 

   The season opens up Nov. 10th for Virginia. Be sure you’re ready and as always, invite a friend or family to share in the fun. Good luck!

Kate Ahnstrom, owner of Virginia Shooting Sports is a certified, professional instructor of the Paragon School of Sporting, pro staff Syren/Caesar Guerini, resident pro Orapax Hunting Preserve, Artemis ambassador for Va, and field staff member of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. Her tireless dedication to her students’ success is obvious in each and every lesson.

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