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by Tom Keer | Oct 9, 2020 | BIRD HUNTING, HUNTING
Final Flights

Leafless trees means the end is drawing near.

The rivers were overflowing, the feeder streams were gushing and the lowland roads were washed out so I couldn’t get to my woodcock coverts. But I had an idea.
The rain poured down for three straight days. It wasn’t a mist or a pitter patter on the tin roof. It was steadfast, like the rinse cycle at a carwash, and it was consistent. Just cold, wet and gray, with no chance of a rainbow anywhere in sight. If it wasn’t a deluge I’d have already been out the door.

The fire in the hearth kept the cabin warm, but when the winds roared it belched wood smoke into the room. The chimney never drew worth a damn anyway, but maybe a good off-season sweep might make a difference. I wished it smelled sweet like pipe tobacco instead of charred oak and maple. The smell didn’t bother the dogs. They were looking out the window wondering why we weren’t getting into some action.

Not many woodcock stick around when it snows.

Truth be told, my setters and I were all at a point in the season as well as in our lives where a day off did us all good. Save for the puppy, the rest of us had some joint pain and bum this’ or thats that needed a break. The first day off went smoothly, but things started cranking up on day two. By day three, the combination of pacing and loafing and fretting didn’t help matters. There was no sign of the rain letting up, which meant that it would be a week or more before the coverts would drain enough so we could hunt. I sail with the wind I’ve got, but this was sure turning out to be one heck of a bust of an end of the season.

I looked back out of the window and saw an amount of rising water that would make Noah concerned. The rivers were overflowing, the feeder streams were gushing and the lowland roads were washed out so I couldn’t get to my woodcock coverts. Standing water in the yard meant that the ground was unable to absorb any more, so we were in a real pickle. I looked back at the kitchen counter and there was a pot of coffee and a bottle of bourbon. It wasn’t even 8 a.m., but I second guessed myself when I poured another coffee.

Being wet is just a state of mind.

We had been having a great season so far. The opener four weeks ago in early October was hazy, hot and humid. Our pre-season training helped, and the spring hatch had been strong. We humped through the greenery and the brush, them wearing their fur suits and me wearing waxed cotton. The dry, sunny, 80-degree heat and 90 percent humidity seemed a long time ago. But it passed quickly, it always did, and within a week the colder weather moved in. With the Northwest winds came morning dew and fog, and flights of woodcock arrived daily. We hunted up the full Harvest Moon, and by then enough sap descended the tree trunks and the woods came alive with color. Sugar maples glowed flame red and vibrant orange, the white birches bloomed golden yellow and even the multicolored sumac was gorgeous. Birds filled the coverts, and I counted between forty and fifty starts per day. There were so many woodcock in some alder runs that some of the birds landed in the dirt roads. They left behind bore holes while in other coverts there was more chalk on the leaves than on a college professor’s blackboard. Constantly the rhythmic clanging of bells were replaced by shrill beeps marking a point. The smell of burnt powder in the crisp autumn air far superseded that which was circulating in my cabin.

The winds blew consistently harder before the rain as the leaves withered and fell. Woodcock continued to arrive on the backside of the moon, but I could tell that their numbers were dwindling. Morning temperatures dropped to the freezing point and the understory died. It was gray all the time, and on most days mercury never climbed above 40.

Time was running out, which made me wonder when I’ll get my last woodcock point of the year. Which dog will be the one to lock up on the point that will carry us all over until next Opening Day? Will we find woodcock in the snow, or will they depart ahead of any coming storm? Your guess is as good as mine.

By now the fire was dying and I went outside to the wood pile to fill up the crib. A snail had climbed high up on the stack. There was too much water even for him, but he gave me an idea. If this rain forced a snail to higher ground, then wouldn’t the woodcock trade the lowlands for the uplands? Birds would need a mask and snorkel to get to worms from the lowlands, but there would be moisture on the normally dry hillsides. Hmmm, I wondered if the woodcock were up there right now? I pitched the wood in the crib next to the smoldering fire. It’d be dry by the time I returned, so I picked up the bells and shook ‘em hard. Tails cracked happily, and we all knew we were gonna get wet. But dang it, let’s go. There’s not much time left in the season, so let’s hunt ‘em up.
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