Counting Crowsby R. Michael DiLullo
The term “counting crows” comes from an old English divination rhyme, which implies life is as pointless as counting crows…Sorry kids, this article has nothing to do with Adam Duritz’s band of the same name. For this definition of counting, however, we’ll use the Dictionary version; “to believe or consider to be; deem”.
"Crow hunting? What do you do with crows?", was my initial response to my first invitation to shoot crows. "Nuthin", said my farmer friend, "Its good practice for ducks and it keeps them out of the crops". He continued, “Besides, it’s a whole lotta fun!”
I had read a few articles and have seen crow calls, electric callers and crow decoys in catalogues, but had never given much thought to the idea of actually hunting them. Before this the only thing I had ever used a crow call for was as a locator call for spring gobblers.
For the past two springs, I have had to replant two food plots planted with corn after several crows pulled up most of the seedlings just to eat the kernels. This year we treated the corn with a chemical designed to make them sick, so they wouldn’t eat the entire crop. I had even bought one hundred pound bags of shell corn, spreading them out near the freshly planted ground in an effort to discourage the crows from eating my planted corn. Both efforts were to no avail. The crows pulled up my corn seedlings, ate the kernels, didn’t get sick and left the spread out corn for the deer and turkeys to consume. So, crows were not exactly high on my list of favorite critters. And, as I had been told, the only sure way to keep crows out of a field was to hang a dead one on a pole. So, since I was in need of a couple of dead crows for the freezer for next year’s corn crop, I agreed to partake in the hunt.
We set up our blind on the edge of a standing cornfield behind some strategically placed hay bales. After setting up some additional camo netting and supplementing some cornstalks to the hide, we placed three life size plastic crow decoys and one large owl decoy in an adjacent wheat field. My partner explained that with the sun at our back, the fresh green blades of the wheat field would contrast sharply against the brown corn crop. This would allow us to get away with a little more movement and would really draw the incoming crows’ attention to the decoys as they were highlighted in the late afternoon sun. He also explained that crows don’t especially like to fly low over open terrain, and that the cornfield would help to some extent in decreasing their altitude, but that I should expect high incoming and passing shots.
We extended the speaker wire and set the bullhorn-looking speaker at the edge of the cornfield and pointed it skyward. We took one last look around at our spread to ensure everything looked right, and headed the short distance back to the blind. With the tape inserted into the electric caller, we loaded our twelve gauges with high-brass #6’s and got ready for the assault.
Crows have gotten a bad rap throughout history as scavengers and crop devastators, often with good cause. During World War II, with many of America’s hunters serving over seas, it was feared that their uncontrolled population could devastate the farm belt. The crow was actually designated an enemy of the American public and a widespread propaganda campaign charged the "black bandits" with robbing the nation’s farms of much needed grain crops and encouraged farmers and sportsmen to shoot crows. Some areas even placed bounties on the birds. In the years prior to the war conditions in these agricultural areas were ideal for large populations of crows.
Some areas attracted roosts of hundreds of thousands of crows. Often whole towns got together for a shoot with thousands and even hundreds of thousands of crows killed. In 1937, it is reported that some 26,000 crows were killed in Oklahoma during one such shoot, while in 1940 approximately 328,000 crows were killed in roosts in Illinois.
Other methods of controlling crows included trapping, putting out poisoned grain piles and even dynamiting large groups of crows in their winter roosts.
Until recently crows were considered vermin, and these varmints and could be shot anytime of the year. Crows are considered short distance migrants, however, and they are now a protected migratory bird with limitations on how and when they can be hunted. The U.S. government negotiated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The treaty with the Mexican government protects several species of birds that move back and forth between the borders of our two countries. This treaty protects all of the birds in the family Corvidae, which includes crows, ravens and jays. However, under this act, federal guidelines permit states to establish hunting seasons for crows. During these seasons, crows may be hunted according to the regulations established in each state. Regulations or interpretation of depredation rules may vary among states, and state or local laws may prohibit certain control techniques such as shooting or trapping. The crow season can be no more than 124 days, which cannot occur during the breeding stage in specific regions. And like waterfowl, each state is responsible for setting hunting season dates and bag limits.
With the exceptions of New Zealand, South America and Antarctica, 31 species of crows are found worldwide. A crows average flight speed is about 30 mph, although they may reach upwards of 60 mph for short bursts. They have excellent hearing, and their eyesight has been compared to that of waterfowl or a wild turkey.