Game know-how

The woodcock


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We have many names for the things we love, including the woodcock, which also goes by the name snipe or 'sorcerer bird' in Denmark and in Latin Scolopax rusticola.

The name snipe comes from the Mid Low German 'snippe', which means tip, snip or nose. And it's the very long beak that characterises the woodcock's appearance.

The woodcock has relatively short legs and its grey-brown plumage makes perfect camouflage in the forest bed. You need both ability and luck to spot a woodcock hiding on the forest bed in autumn.

The woodcock's large eyes are placed almost centrally on the side of the head, giving it 360-degree vision. The plumage is the same for both genders.


The woodcock is a sign of spring

The woodcock weighs around 300 grammes and has a wingspan of 60 centimetres. It is therefore double the size of a great snipe, which it can often be confused with. These 2 types are found in completely different biotopes. The great snipe prefers boggy, wet areas, while the woodcock, as the name implies, prefers forests.

In spring, you can hear the characteristic sounds of a woodcock as it 'burrs'. It's a very special sound, which is best described as a "roaark, roaark, roaark". It emits this sounds as it flies 30-40 metres above the treetops around the forest clearings.

The woodcock is sexually mature when it is 2 years old. The female typically lays four eggs. The woodcock is one of the few waders to produce two broods a year, if the conditions are right. After 22 days of brooding the eggs hatch, and over the course of 2-3 weeks, the babies are ready to manage by themselves.

Earthworms top of the menu

The woodcock's feed consists mainly of earthworms. If you see one tapping his feet on the ground, it's because it is trying to tempt the worms from their hiding place. The woodcock doesn't eat other insects and grubs, and in winter when the ground is frozen, he satisfies his hunger with plant seeds in the absence of anything better.

The woodcock's range stretches from England in the west to Japan in the east. The global population is estimated at 15 million birds, so it is not a species under threat from extinction. Most of the European population of woodcocks is concentrated around Scandinavia.


Influx of snipe

In Denmark there are both sedentary birds, so woodcocks that stay all year round, and migratory birds. When there is a sudden swarm of birds, in Denmark this is known as a "sneppefald", an 'influx of woodcocks'. This can typically be experienced in November, when the winter hits northern Scandinavia and Russia and the woodcocks start to migrate south across Denmark. In rainy, windy weather from the west/south-west, the woodcocks head in large numbers to the Danish forests and thickets to wait for better weather to fly in. It is believed that many hundreds of thousands of woodcocks migrate past Denmark from October to December, and in the hunting season, around 40,000 woodcocks are killed annually.

Dog and kit for hunting

Woodcock hunting is hard to plan. Often it's done on impulse on a normal hunt for other game, because there is a sudden influx of woodcocks, but for hardened woodcock hunters, woodcock hunting is almost an obsession. The hunt is usually done with standing dogs, such as Bretons, Setters or Pointers. It is a very exciting form of hunting, which is often done in dense vegetation, where the dog points at the bird so that the hunter can take a shot. Pointers such as hunting cockers, who perform a short search and thus bring the bird to a good shooting distance, can also be used for this form of hunting.

The woodcock's flight is completely unpredictable, which is why any help is appreciated. It is therefore recommended that you use a light and preferably short shotgun. A 20 with 5' or 7' shots is a good combination.


The snipe is a fine trophy

A trophy is typically something linked to ground game, and with the woodcock there are 2 trophies, because it has 2 brush feathers. They sit as the outermost feathers on each wing. The brush feather is approx. 3 centimetres long and very pointed. It was once used by painters, hence the name. There are small plates you can put your feathers on, but you can also cut the outer 3-4 centimetres of the lower beak of the snipe - to make a holder for the feathers.

A culinary experience

In Denmark 'sneppebrød' or woodcock bread is a very traditional game dish. A woodcock is not a large bird, so you should estimate one bird per cover. Here is a quick guide on how to prepare woodcock:

Pluck the woodcocks and remove the entrails. The gall bladder, which sits by the liver, is removed. The heart, liver and gizzards are finely chopped. Sauté a finely chopped onion in butter, add the entrails and fry briefly. Add a tbsp. cream and egg yolk, season with salt and pepper and add some freshly chopped parsley. Fry four slices of bread in butter and put the meat on the slices.

The woodcocks are arranged by placing the beak in between the lower body and thighs. Brown the woodcocks in butter in a pan and season with salt and pepper. Add 100 ml of chicken stock and 200 ml of cream and put a lid on it. Fry the woodcocks for 15-20 minutes and remove.

Thicken the sauce with some cornflour. Grill the woodcock breads for 3 minutes. Arrange each bird on a plate together with the bread and some sauce.

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