Woodcock hunting is Winston-Salem man's specialty

CorrespondentJanuary 29, 2014 

On a recent January morning John Shipley was duck hunting in a pouring rain and lightning storm with his lab Jackson at his side.

“I was ankle deep in the water waiting for the sun to break when I started questioning my sanity,” he said.

Shipley had had enough. He pulled out of the water only to take on three other hunting venues before the day ended.

“It was lightning all around us. The strikes were about a mile away so we got out of the water and went woodcock hunting,” Shipley said. “We filled in the time looking for coyote and crows.”

Such activity is nothing new for this 30-year-old Winston-Salem resident. He has been in love with the outdoors since age six when he started shooting an air rifle in his backyard. Four years later he was exploring the woods alone, armed with either a pellet gun or BB rifle in search of squirrel and crow.

“My dad introduced me to dove about that time, and I’ll never forget early November mornings with Dad tramping around the woods,” he said.

Shipley spent the summers with his grandfather fly fishing for trout in the North Carolina mountains.

“On my 12th birthday my mom gave me a fly tying kit,” he said. “I went to fly tying classes at night. I always liked working with my hands. There’s nothing better than tying your own fly and catching a fish with it.”

Shipley’s proficiency with fly tying and fly rods landed him a job at a local outdoor store when he was 16. Two years later he was a fly fishing guide in Montana, where he spent the next three summers.

“I live and crave the outdoors. There’s not much I don’t hunt or fish. I can’t take on any more hobbies without jeopardizing my marriage,” he said.

Shipley became a connoisseur of woodcock hunting after going on his first hunt six years ago.

“Woodcock might be North Carolina’s best kept upland bird hunting secret,” he said. “You can find them everywhere in the state when the conditions are right. I can have just as much luck in Forsyth County as Pender County. You’ve got to follow river basins and systems because that’s where woodcock find their food source – worms. My favorite county to hunt woodcock is Davie because of the Yadkin River System and lots of hardwood cut-overs.”

Shipley believes if he does not limit out on woodcock he is doing something wrong. The bag limit is three per day during the 45 day season. He hunts with a 12-gauge over and under behind his lab, who points before flushing a bird.

Not only is Shipley a die-hard hunter, he also is an accomplished game chef.

“We eat game twice a week,” he said. “I smoke something most of the time. Venison and duck are my favorite, along with wild turkey and wild boar.”

What about woodcock?

“Some say it tastes like the worms it eats,” he said. “To me, it’s similar to doves – a liver flavor wrapped in bacon and fried.”

Shipley, who holds a bachelor of science in forestry management from N.C. State, mixes his work with hunting and fishing. He carries outdoor gear, food and his dog in his truck on his daily work routine. His work ranges from designing wildlife management plans to appraising timber and puts him in touch with many land owners and farmers across the state.

“I basically tell the land owner and farmer what is the best use of their land,” he said.

“I try to slip in a little duck hunting before I go to work if I’m in Hyde County and maybe slip away to look for woodcock and hour or so before sunset.”

Come spring and summer, Shipley is on the water fishing in the mountains, offshore or in rivers.

“You’re darn right I fish farm ponds,” he said. “If you don’t like catching bream on the bed with a fly rod, you’re not much of a fisherman.”

Press Shipley to name his dream hunt, and he will describe a week camping on the upper peninsula of Michigan hunting grouse and woodcock. He is also quick to point out the unique sporting opportunities in North Carolina.

“There’s no other state with the biological diversity that North Carolina has. It’s very unique. I can go pheasant hunting on the Outer Banks in the morning, then fish at noon and then go rake clams and oysters. Where else can you do all that?”

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