In Black Skies

When we stopped to park 200 yards from our first calling area of the morning, we could already see a half dozen crows sitting in a nearby tree. The jet-black birds, cawing and carrying on as they’re apt to do, prompted me to grab another box of 12 gauge shells for my blind bag.

“You’re not ready to go, are you Willy?” my buddy Robby asked as he gathered his own gear. I had already begun walking toward the treeline where we’d planned to set up. I’m not sure why he insists on calling me Willy.

“This one could be good,” I replied. The FoxPro digital caller was soon resting in the fork of a tree. Robby and I were standing in fencerows on two sides of a narrow field. Birds flying over the field would be well within range of both of us. Plus, we were on the crest of a small rise. Like putting a rise between yourself and a working turkey so that he can’t see the “hen” until he’s within 40 yards, this seems to be a good way to get crows within range.

I initiated the calling sequence with a crow-gathering recording, which is just the sound of content crows. Robby folded the first bird that approached. A minute later, I switched over a crow fight recording and near mayhem ensued. Crows dive-bombed our spot as quickly as we could feed our shotguns fresh shells. The circling birds soon grew leery of being knocked out of the sky, however, and began perching in trees 75 yards away, screaming their distaste for the entire situation. We were able to coax a few of them closer for one last look and milk some more shooting by changing over to a dying crow sound.

People sometimes laugh when you tell them you’re going crow hunting. “Crows? Seriously? Like the kind that scare the robins away from my bird feeder?” Yep. The same birds. If you enjoy calling critters to you and wingshooting, crow hunting is a whole lot fun, and most states have very liberal seasons and regulations for hunting them. In many areas, their populations are out of control.

Numerous as these homely birds are, however, they shouldn’t be underestimated as a game animal. Crows react quickly to hunting pressure, and they’re very intelligent. There are several different techniques for calling and hunting them. The two most basic forms are “running and gunning” and setting up in one spot with decoys to call to passing birds.

I’m a run-and-gun crow hunter. I use an electronic or manual crow call, join a buddy or two, and spend the day driving to various farms where I have permission to hunt (most farmers are glad for you to shoot a few crows) and make quick setups for crows. Most sets will produce a couple shots. Some will result in hundreds of crows responding and lots of shooting. Covering ground and allowing the maximum number of crows to hear the call is the idea.

There are a couple things to look for in the setup while run-and-gun hunting. One, of course, is crows. The birds live about everywhere, but some spots, particularly agricultural areas, are more productive than others. I like to make notes while hunting for other species on where I see concentrations of crows for hunting them later in the year.

Kenneth King, a former crow-hunting guide from Grinnell, Iowa, is quick to tell you that run-and-gun hunting is the wrong way to go about doing things, at least if you want to shoot big numbers of birds. After 29 years of guiding hunters from across the country and a few others, and averaging a count of about 50 birds per day each day (with many days in the triple digits), he was unimpressed when I relayed grand tales of shooting 10-20 birds with my run-and-gun strategy.

“I shot my first crow at age 11 with a .22 rifle off a pile of dead hogs,” King said. “My father had lost about 400 head of hogs from hog cholera, which had been spread to his herd from crows. That was in 1957 and 400 dead hogs cost a lot of money. But I soon learned that if you got three or four crows in a week with a rifle, you were doing pretty good. I knew I needed to learn how to bring them in to me if I wanted to shoot more of them. The best way to do that is with a combination of decoys and sound.

“But run-and-gun hunting is not the best way to hunt them,” he continued. “Before you go out and just randomly start calling in places, you need to scout. Crows will usually have defined roosting areas, but may travel 100 miles a day to feed. Sometimes they’ll stop and eat at seven or eight different spots during the course of the day. You need to watch those birds and see how they approach a feeding area and return to the roosting area and then set up in their flyway.”

Crow Resources
 

There are several websites out there with a wealth of crow hunting information and available products to improve your success. Check out:

http://www.crowmart.com/index.htm

http://www.crowbusters.com/

http://www.thecrowroost.com/
 

King relies on a good decoy strategy, among other factors, when set up in a likely area. Although he sometimes places crow decoys on the ground in front of him to imitate feeding crows, he uses an owl decoy in conjunction with crow decoys often as not. This arrangement needs to be elevated for the best effect.

“My first decoys were little paper Halloween ghosts that I painted black and tied to a length of fishing line,” King says. These days, there are several commercially made crow decoys available if you don’t want to make your own. None are terribly expensive, and most are available with a small ring on the back for securing line, as well as a stake for using on the ground.

“I use a little toy bow and arrow to launch fishing line tied to my decoys over tree limbs,” King said. “I just pull the decoys up to the limb and tie the line off somewhere. I use an owl decoy that has moveable wings that flap in the wind. It works great so long as the wind doesn’t get over 12 miles an hour or so. That motion drives crows crazy.”

King says crows will swoop downward when attacking an owl, so he puts the owl decoy closer to the ground and a few crow decoys above it. He also likes to put the speaker to his electronic call in an elevated position as well. In his mind, there is one volume setting for crow calling—full blast.

“You need volume for killing crows,” he said. “I like to put the speaker to the call 30 yards or so away. When crows come in and respond to it and the owl decoy, they’ll drop in low for a half circle and typically give you an easy shot. I prefer to set up in a ditch row or some other type of natural cover, but I have also built blinds in the past.”

Sounds

An electronic caller is the easiest way to call in crows. They’re loud and offer a diversity of sounds. Many modern digital callers are designed to be used with remote controls, so you can increase or decrease the volume and change sounds without ever leaving your hiding spot. I personally like to decrease the volume just a bit when I see crows approaching my setup, and by quickly changing sounds, you can often convince wary crows to commit to within gun range.

But hand-held crow calls work very well and cost a fraction of e-callers. Most are marketed as turkey locaters, but it only takes about 30 minutes of practice to learn to imitate various crow sounds. Listen to the birds’ language—they emit various caws when they’re feeding, when they’re resting and content, when they’re fighting and when they’re alarmed. There are several websites and instructional recordings out there to help you learn these sounds. You can learn a lot of them by trial-and-error in the field as well.

Shooting Crows

Crows fly around 30 mph, and they’re pretty good sized. So they’re not difficult to hit, but they can be a little deceiving. And believe me, I’ve missed my share. They require some lead like any other flying target, but it’s important not to over-think the situation.

“I’ve always hunted with Winchester or Federal 7 ½ or 8 shot with an improved cylinder choke,” King said. “I’ve killed crows all the way out to 50 yards with that setup. I think many people over-lead crows. If you lead a crow by 2 ½ feet at 35 yards, it’s plenty.”

Crows are homely in appearance. Most people don’t think of roast crow when considering a good wild game dinner (although they are perfectly edible and some decent recipes are available). But if you spend some time hunting crows, you’ll quickly learn to respect them. They’re a great game bird, and offer fantastic wingshooting opportunities when other seasons are often closed. They’re very wary, intelligent creatures that are unforgiving of a poor setup, so they require some skill and preparation on your part. Fortunately, they are usually numerous enough to give you plenty of second chances.

Crow Seasons
 

Crow hunting is often categorized with “varmint” hunting because the animals are often regarded as pests that are shot in the offseason. However, it’s important to note that most states have seasons in place for hunting crows, and you should always check the regulations in your area before going. These seasons are generally very long, and often without bag limits.