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Extend your season: crows--the varmints of the sky.

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THE CROW IS actually a coyote with feathers. The two don't look the same, but they have a lot in common. Both are wary, shy and incredibly intelligent. Most important of all, both are survivors. The fellow who wrote that only rats, cockroaches, scorpions and coyotes would survive a nuclear holocaust obviously knew nothing about the crow.

There are dozens of different species of crows throughout the world, but the one we are aiming at here is the American version, which goes by the scientific name of Corvus brachyrhynchos. It is found over much of the North American continent and while its primary enemy is the owl, it is also susceptible to West Nile Virus--which has been known to reduce the population in some areas by as much as 75 percent in only a few months. While there is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans through handling, wearing rubber gloves when setting up for a photo shoot is not a bad idea. "Eating crow" is more than a popular expression as some people have been known to do just that, but it is a risk I do not recommend these days.

The average life span of the crow is about eight years, although it has been known to live for up to four times longer in captivity. As gray matter goes, it is extremely intelligent and one of very few birds known to use tools in obtaining food. Crows have also been observed dropping seeds and nuts onto roads and waiting for an automobile to come along and break them open. They have even been seen using food scavenged from garbage dumps as bait for luring fish into pecking range.

When I started shooting crows back during my high school days it was legal to do so at any time during the year. Shooting them during spring and summer when game hunting seasons were closed was quite popular in the South east (call it the country boy's sporting clays, if you will). I had the first Johnny Stewart battery-powered varmint caller in my neck of the woods, and to give you some idea of how long ago that was, it used 45 RPM records. Believe me when I say it was effective on those rascally birds. My chums and I used to carry military surplus .50-caliber ammo cans filled with reloaded shotshells to our setup spots, and most of the time they were empty by the time we were ready to move on to another area. It was hot-barrel shotgunning before any of us had ever heard of Argentina.

The days of bumping off crows year-round ended in 1972 when they were classified as migratory game birds and became protected by an amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Nowadays, they can be legally shot only during certain months of the year, although in the case of severe crop damage, some states allow them to be shot year-round. Most states require the purchase of a hunting license and a migratory bird permit.

Not as many people take crow-shooting as seriously today as in the old days simply because much of the season runs concurrent with seasons for other game. This has resulted in a tremendous population increase in some areas of the country--the Southeast in particular. However, too many shotgunners overlook that fact that since crow season often extends later into the year than other bird seasons, it is an excellent excuse for staying in the field long after the frost has melted from the pumpkin. Dates vary considerably across the country, but in some states crows can be legally taken on into the month of April. In some states (with North Carolina and Minnesota being examples) the season cranks up again as early as June. If that's not enough to spark your interest, keep in mind that farmers who are experiencing crop damage from crows often welcome shooters with big smiles and open arms.

One of the great things about crow shooting is that it does not require a lot of expensive equipment. The same shotgun you use for other wingshooting works just as nicely here. I prefer a 20-gauge gun and often use the 16 gauge, but the 12 gauge is more popular. Effective calling brings them in close, so Skeet and Improved Cylinder in the barrels of a double work fine. When using a pump or auto I usually stick with IC. The biggest expense is ammo, simply because if the shooting is good you will burn up a lot of it. Serious crow shooters I know reload their shotshells, and the most popular shot size is No. 6: an ounce in the 20 gauge, and 1-1/8 ounces in the 16 and 12.

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Crows have sharp eyes, so wearing full camo (including gloves and face mask) is as important as keeping still. When shooting before leaf fall, a bush or the low-lying limbs of a small tree are good cover. Once the trees become bare, a good portable ground blind is worth its weight in dead crows. A crow is easier to call than a turkey gobbler, but I'm convinced it is less tolerant of a sour note. Practice with a mouth call until you can do a good job of imitating a crow in distress, and if they are within hearing distance get ready for some of the most exciting shooting you will ever experience. Crows are smart, and often send in a lone bird to check out the situation before arriving in force--so hold your fire until the gang arrives.

While the use of an electronic caller on migratory birds is usually prohibited, most states make an exception for crows and it does have advantages. In addition to leaving both of your hands free for the important jobs of loading and shooting, an electronic caller positioned about 25 yards away and close to an owl decoy takes the attention of the birds away from the shooter. If the birds have not been previously educated by a lot of calling, they are likely to ignore all the shooting while making their kamikaze attacks on the decoy. Placing a few crow decoys on tree limbs in the vicinity of the owl decoy adds to your chances of good shooting. A friend of mine used to also tether a battery-powered flying bat to the ground out near the owl. He bought it at a toy store before Halloween, and the crows seemed convinced that one of their cousins had been wounded by one of Dracula's pets. I have not gotten around to trying the spinning wing crow and owl decoys available today, but they should be quite effective.

There is more to shooting crows than the fun factor--they have the ability to seriously impact game bird populations. A Canadian biological survey taken several decades ago, back when hunters shot crows year-round, showed that a single bird ranging within close proximity of duck nesting areas averaged taking between 110 and 120 eggs and fledglings per year. It was estimated that the annual duck harvest for crows was 20 million, while sportsmen took 11 million. With the present overpopulation of crows in some areas, one only wonders what the waterfowl mortality numbers are today. Add quail, doves, grouse and even small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels to the crow's menu and you are into really serious predation. That old slogan, "kill a crow, save a duck," might be more appropriate today than it was back when we shot them year-round.
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Title Annotation:Shotgunning
Author:Simpson, Layne
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:1260
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