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The Cocky Woodcock

Source: Personal experience

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A certain woodcock that used to bother me finally joined me for lunch one day.

The woodcock lived about a quarter of a mile from the dirt road, which was about half a mile from the nearest paved road. Right where the woods turn a little swampy, he used to hunt for worms and grubs.

All through the first weeks of squirrel season, he used to amuse himself by scaring the crap out of me. He'd see me coming, sneak over to a log or a clump of fern that was right in my path, and hide there. As soon as I stepped over his hiding place, he'd erupt in a flurry of feathers, and thunder off into the swamp across the drainage ditch, leaving me to collect my wits and get my heart going again.

Now, he didn't do this every time. That would be too predictable, and all the surprise would wear off. No, he did it just enough that I knew about where he was, but just infrequently enough that I didn't remember it until after he had scared the crap out of me again.

As October rolled around, I noticed one particular Saturday was the first day of woodcock season. I didn't give it too much thought. I knew I might see that woodcock, but the probability was low enough that I quickly forgot about it and concentrated on the squirrels.

I approached the swampy area, listening to a squirrel cutting tulip cones somewhere up ahead.

Suddenly, there was that explosion of thundering wings right between my feet!

Before I had gotten over my startlement, I saw the woodcock whirring into the swamp across the drainage ditch. He was a long, yellow bill and a huge, dark, brown eye followed by a blur of brown wings.

As I watched, still trying to recover myself, a little silver bead passed through the woodcock's eye. There was a flash of orange flame and a roaring sound, and something pushed my right shoulder.

The woodcock fell into the leaf litter, fluttered a couple of times, then lay still.

Still trying to recover from the bird having flushed between my feet yet again, I was a little slow to realize what had happened. Simultaneously, I had rid myself of that pesky bird and pulled off the first perfect wing-shot of my life.

The first day of the 1972 woodcock season that bird scared his last crap out of me, and I had my first woodcock sandwich.

Epilogue: No, I don't actually believe that game birds flush from under people's feet intentionally, or that they enjoy scaring people. They sit still more often than not, and only flush when they perceive that they are about to be stepped on. That suggests that we walk past far more birds than we ever realize are there.

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