Crow hunting offers waterfowlers well-needed practice, and it's fun, too
Don't sell crow hunting short--or the crow shooting. Both could significantly impact positively on your duck success. I realize that some duck seasons have already started, but the bulk of that fun is yet to come for most of you. In fact, for a large part of all the flyways the best shooting probably does not start until December and January.
What can crow hunting and crow shooting do for your duck hunting and your duck shooting? I bet it's pretty obvious to most of you already. To have the best success on ducks you have to prepare--and prepare well. There's the blind location, the blind building, being able to change locations before the day wears on too long, there's the tough high-overhead shooting when the decoys don't work to perfection, it's being able to shoot decoying birds consistently well, it's being able to get off telling second shots after you knock the first birds down.
And the more crows you kill the better you are probably making your duck hunting. It's old data, but in 1946 Ducks Unlimited did a study on crow predation on duck nests--as well as maybe some ducklings that crows killed. DU said at that time crows were responsible for the deaths of 30-million waterfowl. With statistics like that it makes me want to get out and shoot the black marauders even more.
The problem with many crow ventures is that we don't put as much effort into them as we do our ducks. We don't put as much thought into our blinds--or whereever we hide from crows. We don't go overboard to stay out of sight--like we do for ducks. We don't stay motionless as crows approach--as we do for ducks. We don't spend hours scouting for crows--like we do for ducks.
Of course, many do hunt crows with great seriousness. As duck hunters, if we take the same approach to crows as we do with ducks our success will skyrocket. But the bottom line is that as we become outstanding crow hunters that knowledge adds on to what we already know about fooling ducks. So that's my recommendation for this month--learn how to become a better crow hunter--and do that in the coming weeks before major duck seasons start-- do that and you will become an even better duck hunter and duck shooter.
Crows are wary, wary birds, just like most mallards, pintails, gadwalls and teal. Screw up just one aspect of a hunt for an individual band of crows and it's over; plus you've made the black flyers all the smarter and thus tougher to fool the next time. It's a good idea to go all the way with camo including facemask and gloves, but maybe you already do that in your duck blind.
Just like you are always honing you duck calling skills (or should be), crows respond to good calling as well. But just like ducks--crows are not pushovers to any haphazard calling. It takes insight, experience and practice to call crows consistently and effectively. So if you don't already have a few crow calls, better get out there and buy some.
But you won't have to buy a new shotgun. Your waterfowling ordnance will do just fine. You won't have to buy any expensive non-toxic shot either, unless you are going to shoot crows in an area where non-toxic is required. Of course, these days lead shot prices are going through the figurative roof. Crows, like ducks, aren't that easy to kill. Consequently, bargain-basement type shot isn't the best medicine, though it can work just fine once in a while. Small shot won't usually get the job done on the black marauder either. A 12-gauge load of high antimony #5 or #6 shot--say one-ounce or 1 1/8-ounce is what the shotgun doctor should order.
"Don't forget to keep your head glued to the stock--right through the shot"
But let me get back to the proper shotgun for this before the ducks stuff. Some of the most popular waterfowl guns will be excellent for crows, and you probably already have one of them. You know the usual suspects, Benelli Super Black Eagle and M2, Beretta AL391 Urika and Xtrema, Mossberg 935 and 930 semis, and 535 and 500 pump guns, Remington 11-87 semis and 870 pumps. There are some new ones, like the Viper semi-auto from TriStar, the Smith & Wesson 1000 autoloader, the SA-08 semi and the PA-08 pump - both from Weatherby. There are others. But any pump or autoloader that feels good to you--and shoots where you look--is going to be more than fine for crows. A big bonus of shooting a bunch of crows before the serious duck stuff starts is that you are getting all the more familiar with your duck gun--and that's always a good thing.
When shooting crows try to pay attention to all the essential shotgun fundamentals. As crows come to you set up your feet and your body so both will be in an ideal position when you take the shot. Be wary of foot and body positions that cause you to run out of swing at trigger pulling time. With your eyes-- look at the crow's eye--assuming you are close enough. If the bird is too far way for that zero in with your stare on the crow's head and neck. The harder you can focus on the smallest detail of the bird the more likely you are going to hit it.
Start the muzzle moving with the crow a fraction of a second before you start the butt stock to your shoulder. That's thinking ahead about your gun mount. Hopefully, you have practiced your gun mount a lot at home, for that is the key to having the same gun mount time after time. If your gun mount is inconsistent there's no way you can hit consistently. That's because if the gun doesn't come to the exact same place every time you mount it, your eye (rear sight) isn't going to be in the same place behind the gun every time! All this attention to shooting detail on crows, that just gives you more positive experience to rely on in a few weeks when a little group of mallards makes their mind up that they want in your honey hole or a group of pintails swings a little wide of your blind, but not too wide for their own good.
You don't need a spread of several dozen decoys either. Five or six decoys are super, and Avery is now making crow decoys with flocking or texturing, which takes the shine away, plus makes for a more realistic looking bird, just like flocking on your duck and goose decoys. I've used these real-looking crow imitations with excellent results. I've also had great crow results with a spinning wing crow decoy. Mojo makes one of those, but I'm sure other spinning wing decoy manufacturers also make this type of moving fake. I've seen crows hundreds of yards off turn immediately toward my position when I turn the spinning wing crow decoy on--and that's without any calling. That's not to say that I keep the call quiet as the birds come in, for I will start speaking their language when the time looks right.
Now maybe calling crows successfully doesn't have all that much to do with calling ducks successfully, but then again, why wouldn't it? The spoken language is certainly different between the two, ducks and crows, but you still have to learn the right call nuances as their body language tells you something different is now required. It's my
bet that learning to speak the crow's language better will help you understand and speak duck language better.
Let's wrap up with a little more from the shotgunning angle. Follow through. You don't have to do a lot of it, but following through with the shot --some distance past where you pull the trigger--is very important. You don't have to keep the muzzle moving another five feet after hitting the trigger, but at least teach yourself to keep the muzzle moving a few inches beyond the shot.
And don't forget to keep your head glued to the stock right through the shot. Just this afternoon I was shooting some clay targets with a fellow who hadn't tried pitch birds much in the past. He had some other shooting faults, but, mainly, he missed and missed because he just didn't keep his head on the stock. It's very easy to lift off the stock on a duck or a crow that's hard to see for any number of reasons, like getting ready to fly behind brush, escaping faster than you thought, or maybe your muscles are starting to bind up with your swing. In any of these cases, and many others, it can be natural to lift the head from the stock--simply so you can see the bird better. But head lifting is the figurative kiss of death to shotgunning success. So I'll finish this month's column with that admonition--stay glued to the stock--crow or duck shooting; any shooting really.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.