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HUNTING IN FRANCE

Woodcock

(Bécasse)

Etude bécasses et chiens d'arrêt -woodcock & pointers - by François Lebert


Season
From November to January.
Regions
We mainly hunt in Normandy, but woodcock currently visit or stay everywhere in France, including the mountains like the Alps. Brittany, Provence, Burgundy and Bordeaux-Médoc (near the famous vineyards) are reputed regions.
Species
Scolopax rusticola (bécasse des bois)
Hunting woodcock in France
Woodcock is hunted over pointing dogs with bells. (No beeper). Woodcock can be flushed during any upland day but real woodcock hunters use specialized dogs trained to hunt mainly or only this wonderful bird.

Bag Limit

& French Woodcock Society (CNB) policy

C.N.B

Bag limit of 3 (sometimes 2) birds per hunter, and 6 for a group. A group starts with 3 persons.

We want things to be clear, we do not claim for any endorsement of the CNB -Club National des Bécassiers- our over 50 years old woodcock society- but we are fully hunting in accordance with its rules and firstly with its motto -Chasser le plus possible en tuant le moins possible- In English, "Hunt as much as one can, kill as few as possible". The birds are only shot on solid points. We will not hunt during severe periods of cold. We will respect the agreed bag limit. Our dogs only carry tinkerbells, never any electronic device.

Websites

C.N.B "Club National des Bécassiers" French Woodcock Socity - CNB 64: Woodcock club of the Pyrenees C.N.B. 64 The C.C.B "Club de Cazadores de Becadas" Spanish Woodcock Society. The best dog bells in the world, in Nay, Béarn (Pyrenees). From these webpages you will have access to more links and woodcock pages like the excellent website of the Club della Beccaccia in Italy.

A woodcock experience in France...

Normandy

Day trip at 130 km from Paris

Program

The night before the hunt is spent outside Paris in the town of Saint Germain en Laye. Your hotel could be the Pavillon Henri IVth, a beautiful historical building where the king Louis XIVth, Alexandre Dumas and Ernest Hemingway have stayed before you. I will pick you up there in the early morning. We will be hunting a noble oak and beech forest in Normandyfrom 9.00am to 5.00pm. If your wife is traveling with you, she can wake up later, and from the hotel, she will be able to occupy her day in Paris or Versailles or simply stay around. Walking and shopping in the streets of Saint Germain en Laye is very pleasant. There is a street market on Tuesdays and Fridays and an outstanding archaeological museum. The heart touching "Monte-Cristo" house of Alexandre Dumas can be visited within a short taxi ride. On request we can arrange countryside accommodation in a village near the forest, but Saint Germain en Laye is much more convenient. In the late afternoon I will take you back to your hotel. As another alternative, the night after the hunt can be spent in Paris, but again Saint Germain en Laye is probably more convenient and relaxing.


At dawn with a pair of setters in Provence

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Woodcock over pointing dogs....

French hunters love woodcock over dogs as this bird really reveals the qualities of good dogs. Woodcock is never a game bird of many shots. Sometimes it is really scarce. But the lucky hunter has dogs we say here inventing birds when there is none. Dogs that always find birds, whatever the covert or the size of the woods, no matter who passed before him. This dog will always find and point even the meanest only bird present, and will keep bird and point whatever the time the master needs to find him. Each bird has its own story and I know old woodcock hunters (les vieux bécassiers) in their 80's who are able to tell you all details of almost each bird they shot... or missed ! during a 60 years career. We rigorously apply the famous motto of our Woodcock Society, the CNB: Chasser le plus possible en tuant le moins possible. "HUNT AS MUCH AS YOU CAN BUT SHOOT OR KILL AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE". The CNB, (Club National des Bécassiers, has a website in French that you can find from this page).

Glorious days with Jumbo in the Ft of Bord-Louviers

I have been asked sometimes what is the breed of Jumbo ? - Jumbo was what is called in English a "pointing griffon". The usual name in French is Griffon Korthals or simply "Korthals" . More precisely it is a "Griffon d'arrêt à Poils Durs Korthals" or "GAPDK" in the abbreviations used for field trials and technical documents. During the late 19th century, Edward Karel Korthals was a Dutch game keeper serving a German prince who sponsored his work. He created the griffon now known as "Korthals", by mixing and fixing several sorts of old breeds of griffons, hounds and pointers, Italian "spinone" and woolly haired "barbets" waterdogs. The Korthals is a totally different dog from the German wire hair. If you make a google search with the words <<griffon korthals>> or <<club du griffon korthals>> you should find more informations. Picture below: Discovering the mill of Coat-Cren in Brittany


A day's woodcock hunting in France...

You are walking silent in a cold winter morning, in the shade of a big forest. The dogs are so happy to run freely that their good mood becomes yours. Your soul is like running with them, and they really run with pleasure. Most of the time you can't see them but they're both carrying a nice sounding bell, each with a different sound. You walk and often stop to listen at the bell's sound. The frost cracking under your boots, and the song of the bell in the valley are really nice sounds. The canter gives the tempo, but they're meeting some presence... the bell pounds differently and so does your heart. Suddenly a total silence fills the wood. Where are they? (most French hunters refuse to use these horrible beepers), walk quickly where you last heard them. Now you're close. It is very bushy here. There is a good smell of young pines and rosemary bushes. Where are they ? A light whistle between your teeth. The good old dog shakes his head a little bit and rings his bell smoothly and then silence again. Now you know where they are. Just under these young red oaks with a big holly on the right. Now the shotgun is ready. A few more steps, and you can see the gray silhouette of one dog in the ferns under the oaks, and soon the black other dog by the holly. Find out where the heads are pointing. The last meters are difficult, you try to step on these brambles instead of forcing them. Here is not too bad. You are waiting with the gun ready. It is lasting a bit but you love it. The dogs are on the scent like a wine connoisseur on an old château Margaux. Not a shiver, but the grey's head slowly moves left, and the dog stands up again, looks at the sky and suddenly the wings clack and the two bells start again. Mer... ! where is she !!? This brown arrow in the red oak leaves and... BAW !...??? Yes SIR ! she's DOWN ! Cap in hand, salute ! Now you're here standing, admiring this beautiful bird in your hand. The priest never sees you very much at the church but you know that only a wonderful God has been able to invent such a beautiful creature. It is the moment you're a bit sad. The dogs are up again, for them this moment is already far behind. This is nature, that's how it is. You start walking again with a sort of sorrow and your gun is a heavy burden to carry... But... How are we going to cook that one ? Who will we invite for dinner ? Hé! Hé! you're smiling again and walking with new joy. HEY YOUU ! DOHOGS ! you're shouting. Wait for meeee ! HO ! HOO !

American hunter (with hat)...

... French griffon (with bell), and European woodcock scolopax rusticola

Scolopax rusticola is a bigger bird than Philohela minor


Closing the 2004 2005 season in Normandy

Recipe

The roasted Bécasse "A ma manière !"

Also named "Bécasse aux bowels" by Kirk Hogan


Firstly, "wait" your woodcock. Hang the bird by the neck in full feathers outside the house but in a dry place. If the winter is mild, leave it for around five days. If the weather is very cold, wait for a week or ten days. When the bird is ripe, get rid of the feathers, keep only the painter's feather -La plume du peintre- (1). And start a the same time two "culinary works" as:

1/ La Bécasse (the woodcock) & 2/ La Rôtie (the toast).

La Bécasse.

Make a delicate incision on belly and put all the "insides", on a cutting matt.

Take the bird in your left hand and the head (still attached but eyes ripped off), in the right hand. Push firmly the bill through the legs at level of the knees. This way the bird is presented, "à la mode classique".

Melt some butter in your fingers and proceed a massage of bird's body, then season the skin with salt and pepper .

The bird is (or birds are) then placed on a steel dish and put inside hell fire oven, accompanied by one or two garlic cloves "en chemise" (keeping the outer skin).

La Rôtie (the toast) (2)


Chopp the "insides" with a good knife, (get rid of the gizzard, which looks like a little hard ball). Put everything in a small casserole with a "nut" of butter, on not too warm a fire.


You will quickly see a smooth transformation (difficult to explain) of color and aspect. When it's all "transformed" like after 3 or 4 minutes, take some wheat flour with your fingers and pour in rain on this. Mix thoroughly and wait another minute.

Add a drop of Armagnac, and heat a bit more. Prepare a lighter, when you see its OK, Fire ! Whaoum !!! flambé the Armagnac ... take away from fire, mix again thoroughly adding very little of salt and pepper. Leave it apart, it should look like a brown paste.

The toast themselves are pieces of bread that you should have left on air since yesterday. Fresh bread doesn't work for this.

Heat some oil in a pan and roast (or better said, fry) the bred slices on both sides. Blond is the colour to obtain and the surface of the bread must be crusty. French baguette bread is the best, but white bread US or UK style should work also. (I guess a good baker's loaf will be better than industrial plastic bread).

If you take a French baguette as a measure, you should get two toasts (cut into slices shape) per bird. So if it's the big square Anglo Saxon bred, one toast cut in two triangles will do.

When these are blond (this operation can be done as # 1st, any time before), place them on a grill or on absorbing paper to get rid of some frying fat.

Take your casserole with the insides and Armagnac preparation and spread over the toasts.

Back to the Bird.

It must be "golden brown", like any roast chicken or partridge. It must be well cooked everywhere but absolutely not dry. It's an art ! Also it must have produced a nice gravy singing (but not burning) in the steel dish.

Garlic must offer no resistance to a fork. If it is still hard, it usually means that birds are not cooked enough. It mostly depends on the number of birds. 8 birds will need more time than 6, needing also more time than 1 or 2.

Usually with 30 minutes it is all OK.

Now you think your birds are "to the point", turn the oven and follow me:

1/ Bend birds on the steel dish to get all the gravy that is inside.
2/ Place the birds waiting somewhere where they won't get cold.
3/ Place your toasts inside the still hot oven.
4/ Put your steel dish on a fire. Scratch the bottom with a fork. Mash with the fork one of the garlic cloves. Add a drop of the red wine you will drink at the table, plus a very small wee of Armagnac and a few drops (5 or 6) of lemon juice. Add a little of thyme, correct the salt and pepper, let it boil once - the result must be brown - and put in a warm saucepan.

Put one bird on each (hot) plate with the two toasts around but the gravy apart. Just use the gravy gradually, toasts are not gravy sponges !

No vegetable is expected at this moment of the meal. A salad as a follower should be enough for today.

Remember that Armagnac and wine must be used with great discretion and should not mask in any way the taste of the gravy or be too present on the toast. (Neither should the lemon, only the cook must know that this light acid touch comes from lemon. If someone recognizes lemon... you'll just do better the next time).

Eat comme des cochons... (like pigs), there must be no leftover of flesh on any bone.

I finally cant resist paraphrasing Alexandre Dumas at the end of his recipe for snipe called: "Salmis des moines Bernardins" in the Almanach des Gourmands of the year 1806

"You must pay great attention to giving forks to the guests in the fear they could devourish their fingers if those had touched the sauce" !

And as we speak of literature, you can also end up with the tradition of the "Dîner des bécasses du baron des Ravauds" of Guy de Maupassant in his Contes de la Bécasse.

Take an empty bottle of good wine, replace the cork on top and push a pin on top of the cork. Set a woodcock head on the pin, place it all at the center of the table. Ask an innocent hand to push the bill and make the head turn -its a sort of woodcock roulette. When the head stops, the bill should be pointing one of the guests. This one has the privilege to eat all the heads but must tell a good long story to the others while they light a cigar and sip their Brandy warmed up by flames of the fireplace. (If you want the story to be good, watch out the number of bottles you serve, the right point is between generously and too much).

Amitiés en Saint-Hubert / Nick

(1) La plume du peintre

The painter's feather, is an elegant small sharp feather found at each elbow and there is only one on each wing. It was used by naturalist painters for its sharp precise point. It is the small feather crossing the bell on the CNB's logo, but it is much smaller than the bell. Only like 2 or 3 centimeters long maximum. Some hunters place it inside their hat's belt as a trophy to carry all day. Others keep them in a small box for the sad moment when their good woodcock dog will leave this world. A framed picture is realized with all the pairs of feathers displayed nicely as little trophies recalling each bird pointed and bagged during the career of the good dog.

(2) Note for people who are learning French...

The word "rôtie" sounds more like roasted piece of meat, but the ancient translation for toast was "rôtie". Now we use the English word "toast" for breakfast or tea time but "rôtie" or "croûtons" in this case. However, "rôtie" is more proper. A roast beef would spell "rôti" without "e" at the end.


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In search of woodcocks, on the "Risoux",
in the Mounts of Jura near the border with Switzerland.

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