For many, upland bird hunting in Maine is a two-tiered treat. One of the joys of October is to walk through the woods and have an opportunity to hunt both grouse and woodcock.

In past years, however, those who loved to hunt woodcock always saw their season come to a close by the end of October. That disappointed many hunters who felt that the late-October season ending had hunters missing out on some very good woodcock hunting.

The American woodcock is a migratory bird that spends its summers in northern climes such as Maine and Canada, then migrates during the fall to Virginia and areas as far south as Florida.

It is this fall migration, or “flight,” where hunters often have the best success. Birds fly through the night and feed and rest during the day in thick cover. In Maine, the peak of the flight is in late October, but many bird hunters often lament how the flight continues after the woodcock season ends.

During the flight, woodcock are more plentiful, are not as wary and seem to hold in covers better than other times of the year.

This year, thanks to some due diligence, sound science and even some pestering by state wildlife biologists like Brad Allen and others, upland bird hunters will get an extra two weeks to hunt woodcock in Maine.

“We’ve been working on this for 20 years,” said Allen, “We’ve worked with to study the effects of mortality on radio tagged birds and hunters only account for 3 to 5 percent of the killed birds.”

While woodcock populations have shown long-term declines since 1968, they now have slowed or stabilized. Most biologists agree that this decline was a result of lost habitat as opposed to mortality by hunters. Despite this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shortened the woodcock season and decreased bag limits because those were the woodcock mortality factors they could control.

Biologists and woodcock hunters have long argued that if the season were extended in Maine, it would not negatively impact the woodcock population. They also argued that there was a 45-day season in the west, which experienced the same decline.

Using the same methods employed since 1968, Allen and others showed that woodcock populations are more stable and have perhaps slowed or halted their long-term decline. According to Allen, 10-year woodcock population studies in the east have showed no significant trend upward or downward. In Maine, woodcock populations in 2011 showed a slight but statistically insignificant increase.

More importantly, strides are being made in conserving and creating woodcock habitat. The Woodcock Initiative, which is a private/public partnership designed to enhance habitat for American woodcock and other wildlife through the maintenance and creation of habitat, has begun to pay dividends in both the amount of woodcock habitat and in population trends.

These population trends, habitat enhancement programs and science presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally convinced the service this summer that extending the woodcock season by 15 days would not adversely affect the woodcock population.

So this year, in addition to what the accustomed four weeks of woodcock hunting from October 1 through October 29, upland hunters will be able to enjoy woodcock hunting from November 1 through November 15, enabling them to take advantage of the late flight of birds.

The extended season should make for many more enjoyable days afield for woodcock hunters. Please remember, these extra 15 days of woodcock hunting occur during the firearm season for deer, so when heading out for a chance at enjoying the November flight, make sure that you wear two pieces of blaze orange and hunt safely.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at: [email protected]