While biologists use drumming-count surveys to determine male-grouse population estimates, woodcock estimates are based on yearly "singing-ground surveys."
In the surveys, observers follow prescribed routes and listen for male woodcocks' courtship songs. The 2012-13 surveys in West Virginia, conducted along 22 routes, indicated a 7.3 percent decline in singing activity.
Krantz said the singing-ground surveys are useful, but not a true indicator of the number of woodcock available to hunters.
"The birds surveyed on singing grounds are resident birds," he said. "Hunters focus on fall migrants. The Eastern Management Unit of the U.S. indicated a slight increase in the number of singing males. So there should be more birds passing through the state this fall than there were last year."
For woodcock hunters, timing is crucial.
"If hunters are out there before the woodcock flights start coming through, which is usually around the end of October, they'll see fewer birds. After the flights start passing through, they should see more," Krantz said.
Last year's woodcock season was a disaster.
"Superstorm Sandy had just gone through, and we had 30-plus inches of snow in the parts of the state where woodcock hunters usually go," Krantz said. "Last year was the worst year many of our hunters ever had."
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, based on data compiled from hunters' Harvest Information Program reports, estimated 2012's statewide harvest at just 2,000 birds.
Krantz said woodcock hunters would feel Sandy's lingering effects this fall.
"The snow broke down a bunch of trees. This year's bird hunters will have a harder time hunting because of all the treetops down in their favorite woodcock coverts," he explained.
Because woodcock are migratory birds, their seasons are federally set. This year's West Virginia season is scheduled to begin on Oct. 12, the same day as the grouse season, but will end at sunset on Nov. 25. The bag limit for woodcock is three a day.
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.