About fifteen years ago I took my old Setter, Clyde to a shooting preserve down east for a quick workout. Knowing that it had the proper cover and topography to hold woodcock, I asked the manager if it would be okay for us to punch into the woods in our designated area. He informed me that I was welcome to do so, but would likely be disapointed as it had been a particularly wet year and that was normally an indicator of slim pickings for woodcock. His theory was that drier years pushed the birds east to the coastal plain and wet years took them deeper west into the piedmont region. I don’t keep a journal or collect raw data for later analysis, but I believe his theory holds water (no pun intended). Following Hurricane Mathew, the fall of 2016 was bone dry in North Carolina. By November the bottoms were dusty and crunchy, the normally raucous creeks were a clear trickle that lead to stagnant filmy pools, and smoke from the WNC wildfires was more than detectable on the nose. Panic set in when I failed to move a single bird by Thanksgiving Day.
The early season was rough. The prospecting was more laborious and the honey holes were less sweet than normal, but we found birds and we were in the woods. Thanks to the formation of the Carolina’s Epagneul Breton Gun Dog Club, Ella and I made some really good new friends this year and there are a few more French Brits charging the switch cane and privet in the southeast. There’s Jimmy and Stella, Josh and Ginny (and now Ella’s pup Jack), and Stump and Eula… the list is growing.
The new year brought much needed rain, and a few cold spells seemed to push the birds our way. By the last couple of weeks of the season we had birds in numbers and we were blessed with several fantastic hunts. Time to let the old dogs rest and let the pups tear up the mud.