Counting on Crows
By: Steve Galea
It's tougher than you might think to hunt these crafty birds
"Ready?" My buddy nodded and I pressed a button - the one marked Crow Reveille - on my electronic caller. The first caw had barely cleared the speaker when a high-pitched response sounded from across the field. Seconds later, while we were looking in that direction, a lone crow slipped in and perched in the hardwoods behind us, while another skimmed the canopy and checked out our decoys. Jerry shot at it and missed. The sentry marked our location and left. The crows had schooled us again.
Crows are the craftiest bird I know of. When you hunt them, there's simply no room for mistakes. Camo, blinds, decoys, and calling must all be perfect, otherwise, you won't even get a shot. Once you educate your local flock, you need to be fairly creative to fool them a second time. If you can't do that, you will just have to wait a week or two until they finally drop their guard again. Few birds learn quicker than a hunted crow.
For instance, when crows first respond to your calling, they will observe the area from distant trees or hydro lines. Then, one or two scouts will come forward. If you eliminate or go undetected by these birds, the rest of the flock will often come in to investigate. If you miss or if they see you, chances are you won't have another crow from that group visit your set-up. The point is to never underestimate these birds.
Crow hunting is similar to waterfowling in that a good blind, competent calling, and well-placed decoys are crucial. A blind should be camouflaged properly and situated near locations crows use or, in the afternoon, along flyways that lead to their roost.
If you can set up in a small opening in the woods, within calling distance of either of these types of locations, so much the better. Small clearings are ideal because when crows come in to investigate your calls they're within gun range before they realize they've been duped.
One last word on blinds: don't bury yourself so deep in cover that you have no shooting opportunity. This might be the most common mistake newcomers to the hunt make.
Calls and Decoys
Either a mouth-blown or electronic call will fool crows, but the latter is ideal because of the volume, realism, and hands-free ability it provides. Even if you have an electronic caller, though, traditional calls should be carried along for variety and to provide backup should your electronic caller malfunction. With electronic callers, speakers should be set away from the blind, so you don't draw attention to its location. It's incredible how quickly unsuspecting crows will respond to electronic callers. They will investigate literally within minutes, often much sooner. Mouth-blown calls, however, are cheaper, easier to carry, and more reliable. In the right hands, they're effective.
There are two basic decoy spreads. One is a feeding scenario. Place as many crow decoys as available in a field they commonly use, as if feeding. Then, place several sentinel decoys in nearby trees.
The second type simulates an owl and crow fight. Owls are the crows' mortal enemies and they will come a long way to harass one.
I use a few plastic full-body crow decoys, an owl decoy in the centre of the spread, and several homemade silhouettes hung from trees. The owl should never be higher than any of the crow decoys. This is unnatural, as it would put them in a vulnerable position. When you kill the first bird, place it at the feet of the owl decoy. This infuriates them.
With electronic callers, use a crow and owl-fight sound loop and the set-up is complete.
With either spread, be prepared to relocate if the action is slow or if crows are skirting your spread. Serious crow hunters will set up at several locations over the course of a day.
Guns and Ammo
One of the great benefits of crow hunting is that it encourages wing shooting in the off-season. In my mind, a 12-gauge, whether a double, pump, or semi-auto, is perfect medicine for crows, especially when combined with 2 3/4-inch shotshells shooting an ounce or more of lead number sixes through a modified choke.
One of the first things new gunners will notice is that crows are not as easy to hit as they first appear. Most hunters actually over-lead them, and they can turn on a dime once the shooting starts. Once you get the hang of hitting them, though, you will learn that the real issue is coaxing them within gun range.
Good for Other Birds
In order to save game birds, old-time conservationists used to target crows and other predators without mercy. Many modern studies still suggest there's some benefit to thinning out crow numbers, which raid the nests of ducks, grouse, and other birds. Farmers don't exactly love them, either, since they steal crops.
While those are valid issues, the real reason to crow hunt is that it's a challenging and exciting wing-shooting activity and the season is open yearround, with no limits. Those are all the reasons I need. If it saves a duck or grouse, so much the better.