Want to join me for a crow-hunting camp?” my buddy J.J. asked with a smirk.
I laughed, certain that he was joking around with me.
“No, I’m serious,” he continued. “It’s awesome. We can hunt them just like ducks. They decoy and everything.”
It occurred to me he was probably just looking for an excuse to get together and let our shotguns breathe. After all, it was July, and we were at least a month away from any legitimate bird-hunting seasons. I didn’t blame him; I, too, was feeling the desperation of the off-season doldrums.
When he told me the plan was to join an expert crow hunter who goes by the name of “Crowman,” I was ready to call his bluff. Yet, a couple weeks later, we were set up on the edge of a cornfield close to a crow roost. The sun was at our back, crow decoys were staked out 20 yards from the field edge and a home-brewed electronic caller lay nestled amongst them. Meanwhile, Crowman, aka Todd Gifford, was using a hand call to spark a conversation with some early-morning crows that had become active with the rising sun. Soon, a couple of these birds appeared over the green sea of corn and glided toward our decoys. We filled the sky with pellets and the birds crumpled.
“Yeah!” Crowman screamed. “Reload. I’ll go pick ’em up. Can’t have dead bodies in the spread.”
The action continued for an hour before tapering off. That’s when Gifford busted out the “jukebox” and unleashed the deafening chorus of Johnny Stewart’s classic “Fighting Crows” soundtrack. A mass of crows swarmed quickly to the sounds, giving us just enough time to empty our guns.
Thankfully, we don’t all have to be as devoted as Crowman to find fun and success while crow hunting. Crows provide an excellent way to improve your wingshooting skills, test new gear and double down on hunting opportunities while scouting for other game. Grab some basic tools and tap into proven advice from Crowman, and you’ll be on your way to a good time.
SCOUTING and PATTERNING
When searching for crows that will come to calls and decoys, first find them on a morning feed. Food sources often vary by season, and many times if you pattern crows on a grain field they might be eating bugs rather than the crop itself.
According to Gifford, birds often hit alfalfa early in the year then switch to corn. He says crows usually feed from sunrise to roughly two hours after sunrise, so be out at first light to scout. He also recommends staying away from roosts and not hunting crows in the evening unless you’re pass-shooting. This tactic typically involves finding consistent flyways along river corridors and intercepting traveling birds. Gifford goes for broke with this quick-and-dirty technique, immediately busting out his e-caller to tempt passing birds a little closer. If you try this, be ready, because the action often will be fast and furious.
Staging for a crow shoot is no different than in waterfowl hunting: It’s all about realism, finding a reliable hide, setting up on the “X” and making every shot count. For hides, Gifford suggests avoiding fake blinds. He wants his cover to be perfect, and for that, he says, you need natural brush. Ensure, too, that crows can’t see you from any angle. Without a good hide, Crowman says, you’ve got nothing.
With decoy placement, mimic the arrangement of birds you’ve already scouted on a feed. If all the birds you’ve seen are feeding in an open field, follow suit. If they’re feeding on the edge of a standing cornfield, consider attaching some decoys to corn stalks. Gifford typically recommends a spread of 50 to 75 decoys.
He also stresses the need for realistic, anatomically correct, fully flocked crow decoys. He’s used virtually all brands and varieties of fakes over the years, but he currently runs Final Approach’s Last Pass line of dekes ($60/3-pack with lookout, feeder and caller postures; fabrand.com). Gifford adds that you don’t have to opt for the most expensive decoys, but you definitely want various head positions.
THE MORNING SHIFT
After decades of scouting and killing more than 10,000 crows, Gifford has the birds’ morning routine down to a science. He says it usually starts with a single bird coming in to scope out the feed. This might be an antsy juvenile or a wise old scout. That bird either commits to the spread and hail calls the rest of its buddies or, if it’s skeptical, it might land on a tree or irrigator in the distance to get a better look before committing. To Gifford, it doesn’t matter whether that bird commits or not because he can typically coax in the other birds with calling.
The calling routine is simple. First, start by using a mouth call and lay down some hail calls as a way of telling the other birds that another crow is already at the feed. Then, transition into some feed calls. After that, Gifford just starts mixing it up to shoot for realism. The first crows that come to your calling will probably be from the main roost—the birds you scouted on the feed. If you’re looking for a good call to buy, Gifford has been working closely with Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls (buglingbull.com) on a signature series of hand calls, which should be available online by the time this article is published.
Morning crows typically come in small waves while you’re blowing the hand call, but eventually it’ll be time for an e-caller. After crows stop responding to hand calling, Gifford cranks up his FoxPro wireless electronic caller hidden amongst the decoys. He recommends the Bob Aronsohn Crow Sound Pack ($40; gofoxpro.com), produced by the legendary crow hunter whom Crowman refers to as “The Crawfather.” Once you go full-bore with the e-caller, expect waves of action from the remaining primary mob of crows, plus any others lurking within earshot.
After their morning routine and feeding, Gifford says crows usually go rest for a while or start patrolling. He adds that birds tend to commit better to your spread after these first flights. So, if you’re patient, you can often finish a lot of them later in the morning. Just be ready, because they’ll often come in silently.
WHY HUNT CROWS?
Most people, including Todd Gifford, refuse to eat crows. So, what’s the justification for shooting them? No different than hunting predators or varmints, crow hunting can be a contentious topic, but it’s driven by management objectives. Nearly every aspect of wildlife management is designed to balance human interest with the stable conservation and health of any species.
In the case of crows, they cause an enormous amount of crop damage. Corn is a key target for hungry crows, and a mob, or “murder,” can wipe out thousands of dollars of the valuable crop in a single season. These intelligent birds target the tips of corn before it reaches maturity, and the cobs rot from even minor exposure. During a recent hunt on a new property, we showed the corn damage to the landowner and he couldn’t believe it.
“I had no idea that crows did this,” he said. “You guys can kill as many of them as you want!”
Shotguns and loads to waylay crows.
Despite their relatively small stature, crows can take a beating. Hard-hitting loads and a reliable repeater are necessary for knocking birds dead and capitalizing on follow-up shots. I’ve shared countless crow blinds with Gifford over the past 5 years, and we’ve tested several shotgun and shotshell models from some of the most reputable manufacturers. We’ve experienced everything from total gun failures in sub-zero temps to ammo that hardly knocked the dust off dodgy crows. At this point, we’re done messing around.
Gifford’s go-to shotgun is the semiauto Winchester Super X4 (right) in 20 gauge ($999.99; winchesterguns.com). Mine is the Savage Renegauge Field (left) with a 12-gauge bore ($1,539; savagearms.com). Both guns reliably cycle shells and swing nicely.
Depending on the regulations where you hunt, you might also consider bringing along a rimfire rifle to dispatch cripples or kill birds that land on the ground outside shotgun range. This is entirely legal where we hunt in Minnesota, though it may not be the case everywhere.
On the ammo side, you want a heavy load with a larger shot size. Target loads and low-brass small-game loads won’t cut it. Gifford leans on several varieties of Federal 3-inch shells loaded with No. 2 or 4 pellets. My 12-gauge performs well with 3-inch No. 4 or No. 5 loads, and I’ve had great luck with the Federal Hi-Bird product family ($16.99-$18.99; federalpremium.com).
As with any wingshooting rig, pattern your shotgun and find the optimal choke-and-load combination for your setup.