September 30, 2016
Todd Gifford isn't too interested in dove openers. Sept. 1 is the same day his Minnesota crow season begins.
A blackbird exterminator/duck guide, Gifford has partnered with Federal Ammunition, FA Brand and Stevens Shotguns to put their gear to the test, and on this cool morning we would see hundreds of crows coming off the roost in search of a meal in standing corn.
Gifford was amped, ready for the crow carnage. It happened just like he said, a big adult bird made the first call, circling high above the field, then the juvies bombed us, some maple-leafing in like snow geese over flocked decoys.
"When they commit like that it's over," Gifford said with a grin, after we wrecked a small group.
You might be skeptical on chasing crows instead of doves in September. And just like most of you, I'd rather shoot those tasty birds than a dirty crow — well, maybe not after that shoot. But once you've killed your share of doves, turn to "The Craw" as Gifford calls them. It can only benefit you come duck season.
Get ready for Fowl
Gifford uses flocked decoys and a call to kill crows over corn, just like you would greenheads in December. The blackbirds respond to the call similar to mallards. They don't bow up and suck in like a duck, but once you have them locked onto the decoys, there's no escape, because they can't change direction like a dabbler.
It's a great way to replicate field duck hunts. It also gets you comfortable with shooting birds at the right distance and calling the shot.
Since your retriever hasn't fetched up a live bird a in a few months, this is an opportune time to get him ready for the duck opener. In Minnesota (and many places in North America) the crow is considered a pest and can be shot without limit restrictions. So if you're on a good feed and killing birds, there are plenty of chances for your Lab to mark and retrieve birds.
A lot of crow hunters drive around scouting for flocks on a feed or at a watering hole, hit the e-caller and pick them off as they come looking for a fight. But if you want to hunt crows like ducks, scout silage fields or an alfalfa field, if you can find one.
Crows tend to fly better in the mornings, so hunt them over decoys in the a.m. and fill your afternoons by chasing smaller groups with the e-caller.
Yes, crows are wary and as the blackbird season clips along, they get educated, just like waterfowl. So you have to camo up and get concealed.
We had a perfect setup, hiding in some tall grass on the edge of the cornfield with decoys on the ground and on top of the stalks. Only the adult birds were smart enough to stay away. They send in the young ones first to make sure it's safe. As the weeks pass, consider wearing ghillie suits and head nets, because these birds get smart quick and have a keen eye.
Coming to the Call
Gifford is starting to make his own line of hand calls, and says it's the best way to entice crows. Newbie's can stick to simple caws, but as you go along, and start to read birds, get more aggressive or subtle with calling, just like you would with mallards or honkers. And don't just flip on the e-caller to "crow fight."
It will bring them all at once. Save that for the end when the action slows to get a few more birds in. Gifford recommends Johnny Stewart's "Fighting Crow," which he still runs on a cassette tape player.
Chasing The Craw
Once the field shoot is over, you're going to be running and gunning, driving around and walking down dirt roads and into fields to get to the crows.
Final Approach Hunting Pack
When running and gunning, a backpack/blind bag is ideal for the mobile hunter. It has plenty of storage with a large main and secondary compartment. Features include a padded waist belt, waterproof bottom and tree hook for those walk-in marsh or flooded timber hunts come fall.
Available in black synthetic, Mossy Oak camo and walnut, the inertia-driven auto-loader is a serviceable price-point gun. There were some issues with cycling 3" loads on early runs of the S1200, but the problem has been addressed, so they're good to go for fall. You don't have to bury your head on the stock to get on birds with this gun. Just touch your cheek to it and pull the trigger. It feels a little odd at first if you're used to a low-ribbed gun, but we smashed crows no problem after a few rounds of trap.
Black Cloud Close Range
We'll let you in on a little secret: Black Cloud Close Range kills birds long range. We pounded crows with it at over 50 yards multiple times, and it has become one of our favorite loads for ducks whether they're working the decoys or skirting the edge. Loaded with Flighstopper steel, check itout the 3" No. 4s.