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The wily crow can be outsmarted

By Staff | Feb 7, 2014

Crows have few lobbyists trying to convince people of their value. Considered a menace by farmers, some naturalists and many hunters, the wily birds take their tolls on crops, orchards, songbirds, game birds and a variety of young animals.

The depravation caused by crows is one of the reasons hunters find the time to match wits with the crafty birds. However, many hunters take to their blinds because of the challenge foraging crows present to their shooting skills.

In many areas of the country, crows can be hunted year round. Finding farmers and other landowners that will allow courteous hunters to use their acreage to match wits with the flocks of crows is usually no problem.

It’s the crows that are the problem, especially in populated areas where they make nightly roosting areas a mess with droppings, regurgitated pellets and a riot of continuous noise.

In the spring of the year, crows can invade a newly sown field and devour the seeds. When a crop sends up its first sprouts, the crows come en masse and savage the tender plants. In orchards, they can be seen flocking to pecan, cherry or peach trees to eat their way through unripe nuts or fruit like their meals were filet mignon or lobster bisque to humans.

Despite a growing human population, crow numbers continue to increase as well.

They have a number of natural enemies, but if Great Horned Owls, hawks, other raptors and humans don’t do them in, then the crows will flourish.

They eat human garbage, road kill, vegetation, seeds — just about anything that doesn’t bite the crow first.

Crows are in the small towns, crossroad hamlets, woodlands, wetlands, open range and farmlands in equal numbers.

They are considered one of the smartest of all animals and finding them is no problem.

Getting them to fly to your camouflaged blind is a problem.

Preparing for a full day’s hunting takes time and a certain tenacious disposition on the hunter’s part. Fully understanding the routines and habits of the crows in an area requires work and even some money for shells or decoys.

But those that come out of a blind at dusk after counting the crows that have fallen at their feet tell of their success the same as they might share a tale of deer hunting or pheasant shooting.

To have any success, the hunters must scout the crows. Roosts are located. The directions most taken by the crows when leaving a roost in the first light of dawn or when they return at dusk after a day of foraging are duly noted.

When enough information has been gathered about a flock’s movements and habits, the hunters can plan where they will erect a blind or blinds. Placement of a blind is important. It should be constructed of downed tree limbs, the branches of evergreen trees, tall weeds and other vegetation found at the edge of a woods or bordering on an open field that has held a just-harvested crop or a just-planted grain.

Standing trees near the camouflaged blind are important. The hunters will place decoys in the trees. The crow’s mortal enemy, the Great Horned Owl, will be placed as a decoy on a fence post or in an easily seen place in a tree. Crows can lose their wariness and edginess when spying an owl in a vulnerable position. Decoys are also used on the ground just outside the blind.

The blind is where the shooters will hide when waiting for the crows to come their way. It appears to be a jumbled patch of natural vegetation, colored with only drab grays, browns and blacks because crows have an acute eyesight that can distinguish bright colors.

The time spent scouting the crows should have yielded enough accurate information that the hunters know the most-used routes to the feeding grounds and the more frequented flyways traveled on the way back to the nightly roost.

Thousands of crows can inhabit one roost. Once they are awake and stirring, the birds can leave a roost in flocks of many hundreds, all going out over the surrounding area, but often staying within a 20-mile radius of the smelly roosting area of trees.

Hunters are in their blind before the first rays of sunlight find the day. They scan the sky in the direction their scouting report tells them the crows will come.

If the human plans are correct in their assessment of the crow’s actions, a few of the black-feathered quarry will be flying ahead of the others. Crows have their own scouts.

The veteran hunters will have their favorite wooden calls to bring the early-arriving few to their blind. If good fortune is visiting the field that morning, those few crow scouts will be downed and then hoisted into the trees to be used as decoys themselves.

When the sky becomes a blackened blotter of arriving crows, the hunters will be busy with their calls, using a variety of sounds the birds know as “come on in, everything is all right”, “our mortal enemy the owl is here” or a loud “crow in distress” series designed to short-circuit the natural instincts a crow has.

Crows will swoop in over the trees, diving low at any angle. Some react only to the decoys on the ground that appear feeding in a leisurely and orderly manner. Meanwhile, the hunters use their calls as often as possible, jangling the crow’s behavior. The owl in the tree takes precedence over all else in the “thinking”of others.

Once the first waves of off-to-the-breakfast crows have passed over, the hunters from the blind will collect the downed birds, placing a few more as decoys in the trees and some of the others on the ground.

At midday, the crows mostly are digesting their morning meal, resting in an area where water is available or waiting for another round of foraging before gathering aloft to make the many-numbers flight back to the nightly roost.

As for the hunters in the blind, if they are still warm and their backs haven’t stiffened, they will have a little lunch themselves. Cups of hot soup from a Thermos bottle, sandwiches brought to cut away any hunger pangs and other foods designed to help remain enthusiastic for the crow’s return flight will be consumed.

When the many-numbered, overhead platoon of crows joins again for the return to the nightly roost, the hunters will bombard them with realistic calling and realistic buckshot aimed to lessen their count.

The crow hunters have been rewarded for their scouting efforts, blind-building techniques, patience while placing air-borne and grounded decoys and calling abilities.

And the crops are a little safer from predation, the same as are the nests of robins, catbirds, cardinals and quail.