All posts by Walt Lesser

Contributing Member I acquired my first Ryman-bred setter in 1958 and with a few dedicated Ryman fanciers, bred, trained and hunted over these setters, primarily on grouse and woodcock for more than half a century. In breeding the Appalachian Ryman-type setter, we strived to maintain the same characteristics that we knew as "the true Ryman type". I am honored to be included as a founder with this group of dedicated breeders concerned about the future of the Ryman-type setter. These breeders know that working together is the answer to keeping the Ryman-type alive. Together with Lisa Weisse, we published the book The Real Ryman Setter- A History.

Spring Training On Woodcocks

Woodcock are currently returning north from their wintering grounds in the southeast, presenting an ideal opportunity for those of us interested in training or exercising our setters.  Working our dogs on returning woodcocks without a gun, practicing a “catch and release” form of hunting, is a great way to get exercise and extend training time of a young dog on wild birds.  Woodcocks are usually found in West Virginia lowlands after February 20(weather dependent) while hunters are still pursuing grouse during the last of the season.  These are males heading north from their wintering grounds and stop only briefly until reaching their desired breeding grounds.  They preform a courtship display each morning and evening from the time they leave their wintering area.  This is a display you must witness.

We have the responsibility to make certain we are within legal limits of the law before working our dogs after hunting season.  Most states have dog training regulations and some Federal lands prohibit dog training outside the limits of hunting season.  A further responsibility of ours is to limit the time we work our setters to avoid woodcock nest disturbance or abandonment.  Typically, March is a safe month to work the dogs without interfering with nesting  in the primary breeding range – with its southern limit being central West Virginia.  I recommend that nesting peak times be avoided.  Peak hatching dates for Massachusetts and Maine have been recorded as May 1-7 and May 8-15 respectively.  Using an average incubation time of 21 days will give some guide as to when most nesting typically occurs at such latitudes.  Note also, nest abandonment is less likely to occur in late periods of incubation.

This year, due to a very mild winter, early nesting may occur.  there have been reports of early arrivals (late February) in several northern states and one report that said “woodcock have made an early arrival throughout Pennsylvania, and many never even bothered to leave this winter”.

Another benefit of working our setters on spring woodcocks –  it gives us an opportunity to photograph our setters working a wild bird without distraction,  and therefore perhaps better photos.


Woodcock nest disturbed and abandoned during egg laying or early incubation on April 9 in northern Vermont

Walt Lesser