It got to the point that the crows knew to fly when they heard the back door close. Whether I was out to kill one of them or just shoot in the field behind my house, the local crows knew a gun was probably in my hands. Our games of life and death got so serious that I had to sneak out the front door and practically low crawl around the corner of the house to take a shot at one of them. Even then, other birds perched in a stand of nearby pines could see me as I turned the corner; they flew, then the targeted crows flew, and I was back to square one.
And so we danced.
Even the smartest duck I’ve drew a bead on hasn’t offered the challenge one of those crows did. It took me several years to put two and two together, but eventually I realized crows could be my year-round practice session for waterfowling. The nearest clays course was 20 minutes away, and all it could offer was the basics of shooting. If I wanted the full practice session for ducks — decoying, calling, blind building, and shooting a living, breathing bird — I needed to hunt crows.
Here are seven ways they make duck hunters better hunters.
Learn to Decoy
There are several options for crow decoys. You don’t need to spend the same kind of money for them as you would for a half-dozen mallards or pintails from a waterfowl decoy maker. While I’m willing to shell out serious money for goose silhouettes or foam-filled teal, I go cheap when it comes to crows.
In fact, I double up. I take the boxes from my goose and duck decoys and cut the cardboard into rough, crow-like forms. The “decoys” are cut slightly oversized for better visibility, then spray-painted black and stuck on thin metal wires (old election signs furnish that part). I’ve had birds try to land in this poor-man’s spread while I was still standing in it adding decoys, so realism isn’t as big of a factor as is the contrast of black birds on green grass.
Crow and duck calling are very similar in that you can get away with a simple crow caw or mallard quack if you’re a beginner, then step up the difficulty with more advanced calling. Crows come to a wide range of sounds, from crow calls to cottontails in distress to owls. As you learn to work murders of crows you’ll get better at juggling the different calls on your lanyard, making it easier to seamlessly switch between calls during waterfowl season.
Leading birds on open water takes time to master, but the skills aren’t entirely transferable to timber shooting. Before you head to Arkansas and start blowing off tree limbs, take time to hunt the back 40 and shoot crows as they whirl amond the boughs.
When and where legal, set up an electronic caller with a rabbit in distress call and wait for the crows to attack. When the canopy is especially thick, crows will circle multiple times before dropping into the wooded area. If they can’t make out with their eyes what they sense with their ears, they will continue circling in and out of the trees. Take your time and kill one or more before the jig is up.
This one gets expensive, but it will make you a better shot for having practiced in the offseason with the real thing. I suggest buying cheap steal loads, even if you plan to shoot Hevi-Shot or some other form of premium shell in the duck season. Start with lead to get the feel for your gun while crow hunting earlier in the calendar year, then transition to steel as the season approaches.
Always Available (Almost) Everywhere
Crows are technically considered migratory, though they’re the resident geese of webless migrators. As such, states must have designated hunting seasons for them instead of letting them be killed like pests.
However, that season is highly liberal. The federal government only requires the season to not surpass 124 days; states break that up into three or four days a week and stretch it throughout much of the calendar year.
Cornell’s ornithology lab lists them as year-round inhabitants of at least part of all the states in the continental U.S. (the federal government doesn’t allow crows to be hunted in Hawaii anyway). They inhabit everything from riverbanks to agricultural fields to city parks, so if you can legally hunt them and can set up for a safe shot, you can likely find a crow to shoot.
Doubling (or Tripling) Up
Do you typically see a crow by itself? No you do not. A crow is much like a goose: they are almost always with other birds for security. All those eyes in front of so many intelligent brains make for tough shooting unless you’re on your game, but also offers multiple attempts at doubling and tripling up on birds — something you should be at least marginally capable of before the moment of truth comes on a banded duck in cold weather.
They move together and fly together, and when you get the calling and decoying right, they land together, too. Learning to pick the right bird to begin with and swinging through the remainder will make you a better gunner in duck season, and beyond.
Learn to Build Blinds — Over, and Over, and Over
A duck practically has to land on a body of water. It may not be the one you’re on, but it’ has to go somewhere to wet its feet. A crow has no such constraints: It can land anywhere and everywhere it wants to. Being completely hidden and on the proverbial “X” isn’t just the difference between a mediocre shoot and a great one; it’s the deciding factor for shooting a crow at all.
Start with the area you want to hunt. If it’s a field bordered by a treeline, practice your blind building and camouflage. If it’s a wide-open area, break out your layout blind and practice burying yourself among the birds. Either way, you’ll need to put in good scouting from a respectable distance to avoid spooking birds. The benefits to waterfowling are obvious.
Give it a try. It’s not a question of whether crow hunting will make you a better waterfowler; it’s a question of why you haven’t already been doing it.