Crows have a biological nature that makes them susceptible to sport hunting. First, they have a high metabolic rate, which requires them to search for food daily. Crows are omnivorous and will take advantage of any food source. As they search, they become vulnerable, increasing the opportunity for exciting hunting.
As autumn approaches, millions of crows migrate from northern latitudes to warmer southern climates. They return to northern habitat in the spring to feed and breed. In locations with temperate weather, crows may not migrate if food is available year round. I found no evidence of a major migration route in the southeastern U.S. They are everywhere, and flocks of hundreds may be seen in late fall and winter.
There are two species of crows in the southeastern U.S. – the American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, the larger of the two, and the fish crow, Corvus ossifragus. The former lives all over the U.S. but is sparse in the desert southwest. The fish crow lives along the eastern seaboard states, and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Crows are highly gregarious during the cold, non-breeding season, and often seen in flocks of thousands in the Great Plains states. That gregarious nature offers opportunity to score large numbers. Reports of hundreds killed in one day, when hunting “flyways” in the Great Plains states, are common. Years ago, a friend and I hunted in Oklahoma. It was our first trip “out west” and we averaged about a hundred a day. Five to fifteen per day, year round, is average in the southeastern U.S. In prime hunting season, that may double.
Crow hunting with a shotgun takes planning. Early autumn is the preparation season. Find good places to hunt before the prime hunting period begins. Do this in September by visiting landowners and locating potentially good hunting places, especially feeding areas.
I regularly shoot clay birds to retune shooting skills. I also pattern test my shotgun with any unfamiliar shells that I plan to hunt with. Early in the season, I use Remington Game Loads, with 1 ounce of No. 8 shot, in my 12-gauge automatic. Later, when crows get wilder, I use Remington Shur Shot Heavy Field loads with 1 1/4 ounces of No. 7.5 shot. Crows are not very tenacious, and don’t need heavy loads. I never use shot larger than No. 7.5. Even No. 9 shot, in high velocity 1 1/8 ounce loads does well. A 12-gauge automatic or pump is best for crow hunting.
Preparation is paramount. Check all equipment before you go to ensure it’s working, especially batteries for electronic calls. Keep hands and fingers warm and nimble with chemical warmers. If hunting in a blind for hours, take food and drink. Protective earmuffs not only prevent hearing damage, they keep ears warm, too. In very cold weather, a portable gas heater and sitting stool add comfort. Obviously, you won’t need all this when you “run and gun.” Camo clothing should match the season of the year. In early fall, wear camo that’s mostly green, and lightweight. In late fall and winter, wear warmer clothing, and a pattern that’s mostly brown, gray and black. Good camo is essential, as crows have extremely good eyesight! I don’t wear a cap, as the bill obstructs overhead vision. A camouflage gun also helps.
In the southeast, November, December, January and February are the best months, but the weather must cooperate. If it is windy, crows can really jibe about, and be difficult to hit. Rather than fight it, simply stay home. Ditto if it is a rainy day. A few clouds, even overcast or light fog won’t hurt. Cool mornings are best. Crows go to staging areas midday to sit around, and are difficult to call. Afternoons are generally slow, but if you locate a roost and set a blind near it, you may experience good afternoon shooting.
Crows are cosmopolitan and can be hunted most anywhere, assuming there is an adequate food supply. Farmland with forested areas nearby is ideal. Harvested grain fields, pecan orchards and feed lots are excellent choices. If you run and gun, wooded areas with farmland nearby are best.
In the southeast, the most common methods are “run and gun” and “still” hunting from a blind. Run and gun hunting requires a lot of energy, but the shooting is quick, as decoys generally aren’t used and not much time is spent at a single place. Just get into the woods, get under some low lying tree limbs, start calling, shoot a few shots and leave. In cold weather, when crows gather into large groups, still-hunting in a blind near a feeding area for several hours is best. Set up ahead of time with a portable or permanent blind and bring plenty of shells.
Sitting in a blind for several hours may seem like lazy hunting, but it requires a good blind in the right location. Build the blind in a hedgerow with a few trees mixed in, or the edge of taller timber, looking out over a field. Blind location can be the difference between success and failure. It should face away from the sun. That takes the sun out of your eyes and puts it into the eyes of incoming crows. It should match the surrounding foliage, and form a canopy over and around you. The area directly above and behind must be well camouflaged. An area about three feet high, and four feet wide, directly in front and over your head needs to be open to shoot out of. This should be the only place in the blind that crows can see you. A good blind equals good luck.
When hunting from a blind, it’s best to have only one other person with you, positioned 20 to 30 feet away, and in a separate blind. Excitement and competition can cause carelessness, especially if a novice is involved. An adult should carefully guide youngsters. More than two is a crowd, and will diminish success.
Decoys are essential when hunting feed areas. Crows expect to see other crows as they approach the call. There are good plastic crow decoys available, and you need at least six. One of the best is the “Buster II,” a wing flapping motion decoy available from www.crowmart.com. Owl decoys also work, and should be set on top of a fence post, or hoisted up into a tree.
There are two kinds of calls for crows – mouth blown and electronic. There are advantages and disadvantages with each. Mouth calls are portable, battery-free, relatively cheap, and produce a variety of sounds. Disadvantages are, they are easy to lose, clog up, and require practice to use. You must release your gun with one hand when blowing them. In comparison, electronic calls can be expensive, but no practice is needed, and most offer a variety of crow sounds.
I use a FoxPro electronic with eleven crow sounds. It has a remote control, dual speakers, battery charger, auxiliary connect, and is excellent for crow calling. Some hunters use both types of calls, blending the sounds.
A proper set up, including decoys, blind, and electronic call, is necessary. If you use an electronic call, place it as near your decoys as possible, about five to ten feet off the ground. The speaker should face the direction you expect the crows to come from.
The last thing to do before calling is set up the decoys. Why? Because crows in the area may see you set up the decoys while headed your way, and quickly figure something is wrong. Sometimes this is unavoidable. If crows have seen me, I sit quietly in the blind for 15 to 20 minutes before calling, but keep an eye out. Crows may see the decoys, and fly over without calling. Setting up decoys before daylight prevents crows from spotting you.
Dead crows can also be placed on the ground or hung in tree limbs, and used as decoys. Place them about 20 yards from your blind, directly in front of the opening. One or two plastic decoys, hung high in a near tree add realism. To do this, tie a piece of green fishing line to the decoy, tie a weight on the other end of the line, and throw it as high as possible over a tree limb. Pull the decoy up into a natural looking position.
Crows use specific language. Which sound to use depends on your style of hunting. If you run and gun, start with a “come here” sound, or a “feeding” sound. This usually brings in a few, without enticing the whole flock to fly over at once. Try to keep a steady flow of targets coming in without them getting real excited. When there seems to be a reluctance to come to the call, switch to a dying or distress sound. This usually entices cautious crows to fly over.
In a feeding set up, always start calling with a feeding sound. You want them to come to the call in a casual, nonchalant mood. A come here, or gathering sound works well. My caller has a “crow duet” sound that works very well. Near the end of the shoot, switch to a dying or distress sound to wring out a few more shots.
Some myths have stuck with the crow hunting fraternity. One myth, “you must kill the first crow that flies over you,” is horse feathers. If three to ten fly over at once, which is first? Wearing good camo, a proper set up, and a good blind are vastly more important.
Neither do you need to “continuous” call, after you begin. More fruitcake. In western flyway hunting, and run and gun hunting this is fine, but when hunting in a blind, continuous calling is not necessary. From a blind, continuous call for an hour or two or until the crows stop coming. Then stop for 20 to 30 minutes, and start calling again if you hear more crows. This break allows local disinterested crows to leave the area and fresh targets to filter in. If you are lucky and find a large numbers of crows, continuous calling might be most productive.
This is not a myth. Injured crows on the ground running away must be killed as quickly as possible. They will distract incoming crows from your blind.
If you experience a good shoot in a feeding area, wait two to three weeks before hunting there again. Crows have good memory, and you want them to forget any grim experience they may have had before you try calling again.
Volume should be kept low to begin with. As shooting continues, turn the volume up slightly every 10 to 15 minutes until the volume is adequately pulling in distant crows. Keep watch in a 180-degree arc, left and right, as crows sometimes slip over you without making a sound.
Remember to reload after each shooting session. Do not move as crows approach your blind. Clean up any trash in your blind, dispose of dead crows properly, thank the landowner, and get set for the next session. One last thing – you had better find a place to buy shells cheap. This gets addictive.