Don't be outwitted by the black demons with wings
Crows Are Underrated...
March 01, 2008
|Author holding his favorite full body custom crow decoy made of papier-mache and crow feathers. Kenny Darwin photos|
Michigan hunters can look forward to a long winter crow season that lasts until March 31st with no limit. You can hunt them with a small game license, getting permission is easy and crows are found just about everywhere. The difference between fast-paced shooting action and not firing a shot often depends on how well you know your quarry and the strategies you use hunting. This was certainly the case on a recent crow hunt.
The weather was perfect, highlighted by fresh snow and a warming trend that would push the temperatures above the freezing point as we set out decoys and slipped into a blind made from tall grass and brush found along the fence line. Gusting winds subsided during the night and a calm southern breeze ushered in dawn as the eastern sky turned from pale pink to a warm yellow. We could see the scouts leading the main flock as hundreds of crows flew from the rookery in downtown Lansing to the open fields and farm country just outside the city limits.
Some landed in trees surrounding the stubble corn; others headed straight for the kitchen table and lowered landing gear over the open fields. I gave a few calls and two scouts turned, and flew directly toward the decoys. Once the crows zeroed-in on the setup I stopped calling and waited until the big black birds were in easy gun range. The first shot folded the closest bird and two more shots brought down his partner.
We gathered the dead and placed them in the snow, head up, resting on a cornstalk to imitate a crow feeding in the field. More birds zoomed over the nearby woods, spotted our spread and flew directly toward us. When they set wings and came in for a closer look, we jumped from the cover, filled the air with hot lead and three more crows plopped into the slow. Sounds simple, yet hunting winter crows requires plenty of preplanning and a good understanding of how to set up.
Excellent hunts begin by scouting. The trick is to locate a winter flock, determine their roosting location and which fields they use for eating breakfast. Metro Lansing has a large rookery that holds several thousand crows. Come daybreak they leave the sanctuary of the city lights in search of a morning meal. The whole flock does not leave the roosting site all at one time. They gather in small flocks or family groups and fly with one squadron following another. Now comes the important partÖ.through scouting you identify feeding areas and set up along a tree line or fence row. Incoming flocks will spot your decoys and assume they are live birds gobbling down breakfast.
I'm kind of a crow hunting nut and prefer to greet incoming birds at daylight and fool them into easy gun range. You see, over the years I've been outwitted by the black demons with wings and I sort of have a score to settle. Truth is crows are very smart birds and the skills used to bag them are more challenging than those needed for pheasant, duck, dove, geese, grouse, even wild turkey. They are highly respected for their intelligence by Native Americans and any hunter can tell stories about how easily crows escape certain death. It is my opinion crows are the most underrated sport bird in Michigan.
I like to use a hand crow call, talk to them at dawn, fool them into gun range and spring up and dust them with my Benelli autoloader. If you look at the pile of shells I shoot every year at crows compared to the number of birds I kill, I'm in no position to give advice on guns and loads. Crows are not that tough to kill but they are difficult to get kissin' close for easy shots. Since I buy steel shell loads for duck season and with the no lead waterfowl laws, I don't even own any lead shot. Heck, my choice for crows is a #4 shot in a fast moving Winchester Hi-Velocity magnum duck load. My favorite .22 magnum load is Winchester varmint 34 grain hollow point shells.
Another strategy is to use a rifle and pop birds that land on trees, fence posts or in fields. Some hunters use center fire rifles, my choice is a .22 magnum. Again, scouting is important to identify areas where crows congregate. One strategy is to hide in the woods and wait until a scout lands in a tree within range. For this brand of shooting you need plenty of patience and an accurate rifle. The pleasure is in the hunt, not in taking the game. Outwitting adult crows requires good hunting skills, patients and camouflage that conceal your human outline from cunning eyes.
Most crow hunters prefer to use electronic game calls that guarantee hot shooting action. One of my favorites is the FoxPro ZR2 Electronic Game Call which sells for around $200 and has a crow fight tape. The caller is compact, lightweight and runs off four AA batteries. Another good choice is the Preymaster Digital Caller which sells for around $130. This unit is water resistant, handheld and comes with several sounds on memory cards. Both calls also work great for calling coyote and fox. Electronic calls make crow hunting funfilled and provide the brand of fast-paced shooting action that is addictive. Better have your gun loaded when you turn the call on because crows will be soon diving through the trees with their tail feathers on fire. The irresistible sound of crows fighting an owl will bring wild birds immediately. Most are in your face within minutes and they will dive through trees where the sound is coming from. Shots are at close range as birds zip past at lightning speed, miss the fast target and you often get a second opportunity because the crow will turn and blast back though the gauntlet of gunfire. Some birds are missed several times before they come to their senses and fly away.
Most callers drive country roads in search of crows. Once they spot birds they park the vehicle out of sight and set up crow and owl decoys. Birds that hear the fighting calls will respond immediately. Even with guns blazing crows will dive bomb the owl decoy and provide sport shooting that is very challenging. Once a few crows are taken, callers pack gear and drive to the next calling location. For this brand of crow hunting you need plenty of shotgun shells and a sharp eye for taking accurate shots at a fast moving target.
Camouflage is important for hunting success. My favorite outfit is a white Texas pullover used for goose hunting. I can set up in a snow drift, cover my boots with snow, hunker into a ball and disappear from the watchful eyes of scout crow. When birds fly close stay still, their eyes can pick up the slightest motion and they can quickly identify your shooting position. Spook them and the lead bird will take up position in a tree which is far out of range. Now, any birds that come within a mile of your location are warned by the sentinel crow. Some hunters carry two guns when hunting crows, a shotgun for close work and a rifle to pick off any sentinel crows that land in surrounding trees.
As mentioned, hunting open crop fields is a productive strategy at dawn. Come noon pack gear and head for the woods. Try to find some pine trees, which attract crows and owls and repeat calling from the shadows of the large conifer. Set up decoys in a small opening in the pines where birds can get a glimpse of the decoys and will come close for a better look. Pine trees also seem to amplify the sound of your call, which attracts more crows and holds their attention.
Some hunters use long wooden poles or cane pole fishing rods with spikes attached to the base to elevate decoys. In open fields I place full body crow decoys in the snow and try to tip them slightly forward to fool the watchful eyes of crows who investigate the setup into thinking the birds are feeding on corn. Once in a while I use an ear of corn to make the setup look realistic, and I always kick snow to bare the ground, making it look like birds have been feeding in the area.
An owl decoy is placed high atop a foldout telescopic pole when hunting near woods. In pine forests place the owl in a small clearing and set crow decoys around the owl. This setup looks like an owl was flushed from the pine trees and is surrounded by crows. Birds flying overhead will dive below the canopy of the pines to join in the fight.
An electric call and decoys in a pine grove is a deadly setup. Make certain you get the first scout crow, if not it will fly away and warn newcomers. If you shoot several times and no more birds are coming to the setup, time to move to a new location. The trick is to have several calling locations where you can attract new crows to the party. Oh yes, if you shoot at a crow and miss, it becomes very difficult to use the same setup and call the bird a second time; although, I've had multiple good hunts in pine hotspots that are frequented by several flocks of crows. Most hunters do not return to a calling spot for at least a month but I've seen some locations along a rookery migration route that produce good hunting on several different occasions. Young crows are much easier to fool than hunt-wary old birds that tend to shy from any setup that isn't swarming with live birds.
Don't make the common mistake of parking your vehicle in plain view of birds. Try to hide your truck behind a barn, in the farm yard, next to buildings or under trees that conceal the vehicle.
Crows are wary birds. Most tend to spook the second a vehicle slows or at the first sign of human encroachment. Hunting is usually best in early morning when you can reach setup locations before birds are off the roost. Heck, crows might be the most underrated sporting bird in Michigan. There are few birds that offer the challenge and variety in hunting tactics better than crows. They are smart, have excellent eyesight, are suspicious and thousands are waiting to greet you in Michigan's great outdoors.