"If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows."

- Henry Ward Beecher

If you really want to add some fast-paced excitement to your days afield, there is a new game in town. With a few dollars in equipment and a little bit of knowledge, you can have a ton of fun hunting the clever crow. In fact, beginner success combined with an abundance of crows throughout the Magnolia State makes shooting these black bandits a perfect way to introduce a young person to the great sport of hunting.

Ask any experienced crow hunter why he got into this sport in the first place, and you will get the same answer - FUN!

When it comes to hunting experiences, they say you never forget your first time. For those of us who have seen more than a few seasons come and go, our hunting firsts may be years in the past. Even so, who can ever forget the excitement of the first time you splashed a drake mallard or dropped a bushytail from the top of a tall red oak tree? How about the adrenaline rush you felt when you harvested your first white-tailed buck?

The feelings of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment have lasted a lifetime.

I will never forget my very first crow hunt. The sky seemed black with diving, screaming, angry crows. To a 14-year-old, it was magical, and I was instantly hooked. Thousands of crows later, I still feel the magic each time a wily old bird turns and comes to my calling. If only that feeling could be bottled and distributed to the youth of today!

With the combined effect of the anti-hunting sentiment pumped into their heads on a daily basis and the general level of distraction facing our youth, it is getting harder and harder to get young people involved in the shooting sports. The last thing we need to do is turn off potential sportsmen by sticking them in a cold, wet deer stand for several hours without seeing a single animal pass by.

Let's face it: Today's young people have been raised on a steady diet of video games and fast food. They have an extremely short attention span and demand instant satisfaction.

That is why crow hunting can be the perfect first hunt. Plenty of action, combined with blindmaking, setting decoys, calling and abundant shooting make for a great introduction into the sport of hunting.

This is also an excellent opportunity to see if those hunter-safety lessons were taken to heart. If a young hunter is ever going to get excited and break a safety rule, the hot and heavy action of a crow hunt is sure to reveal any bad habits.

Since most farmers have no love for the "black menace," getting permission to hunt crows is much easier than for other types of species. However, always remember to conduct yourself in a courteous and respectful manner. Quite often the relationship developed between a crow hunter and a landowner will grow into an invite to hunt other game species.

What do you need to know to become a crow hunter? Actually, very little. With a basic knowledge of this sport and how to apply it in most situations, combined with the time you spend afield, you can easily develop the necessary techniques that work best in your area of the state.

Scouting

Before you can shoot crows, you have to first locate them. Although crows may seem to be everywhere in Mississippi, a little pre-hunt scouting can turn an average hunt into an awesome experience.

Lucky for us, crows are extremely noisy critters, and can be easily spotted in most areas. By spending a little time cruising county roads, you can easily identify commonly used flight paths, concentrations of crows, or if you're lucky, a roosting area. To experienced crow hunters, finding a roost is akin to striking gold.

Crows spend the night in communal roosts. Some of these may contain only a handful of crows, while large roosts may host hundreds or even thousands of crows each evening.

In the morning, these rested and hungry birds will leave the roost on specific flight paths that will lead them to choice feeding areas. The key to scoring large numbers of crows is to set up your blind along these flight paths and intercept them on their way to the feeding areas.

Guns and ammunition

Any shotgun can be used to hunt crows. However, I would highly recommend using your field gun. This will allow you to keep your reflexes honed during the off-season.

A 12-gauge is by far the most popular firearm for crow hunting. Although any action type will work, having more than one shell in the magazine is a big plus - especially since the very nature of crow hunting means the opportunity to shoot at multiple targets. A reliable semi-automatic is perfect, but a good pump or even a double-barrel will get the job done.

Another thing to consider when selecting a shotgun for hunting crows is camouflage. A gun with a high-gloss finish and reflective surfaces needs to be either covered or made dull before going afield. Nothing will cause a crow to high-tail it in the opposite direction faster than the glare off a shiny new gun barrel.

Choke selection basically boils down to personal preference and conditions in the field. Experienced crow hunters use a modified- or improved-cylinder choke, and regularly take birds out to 60 yards with quality shotgun shells. Beginning crow hunters tend to over-choke their guns, and thereby experience disappointing results.

Although high-brass No. 6 shot is the most popular choice of ammunition, No. 7 1/2s or even 8s are quite effective in bringing down crows. For best results, stick with the higher-quality shells instead of the bargain-rack promotional brands.

But regardless of what brand or load you choose, be sure to stock up on plenty of ammunition. I have been on a crow hunt where three other hunters and I went through more than four cases of shells in a single morning. Running out of ammunition was the only reason we were forced to end our hunt at noon.

Calls

When it comes to crow calls, there are basically two types - electronic and hand-held. Each has its place in crow calling, and experienced crow hunters often use them in tandem.

Modern hand calls are inexpensive and can be easily mastered by most crow hunters. Most are made of plastic or hardwood, and utilize a plastic or metal reed. It is always a good idea to carry more than one call, since you can instantly switch over to a spare in case of a problem. Multiple calls also allow you to produce a wider range of sounds, from the high pitch of a young bird to the raspy coarseness of a wily old crow.

I prefer the Primos Model 302 Crow Call in combination with Primos Power Crow Call. Both feature reeds that don't easily stick in cold weather, and have notched mouthpieces that offer hands-free use, since it is somewhat difficult to hold a call while shooting.

"The newest addition to our crow call selection is the Old Crow," said T.J. Williams, marketing manager for Primos. "Featuring a wooden barrel that gives a raspier tone than our other crow calls, the Old Crow is the perfect call for the serious crow hunter. It isn't quite as loud as our locator calls, but it has a very deep sound that crows can't resist."

One of the greatest developments in crow hunting has been the introduction of the electronic caller. These devices can produce the sounds of multiple crows simultaneously, which is extremely difficult to do with a single hand call. Today's electronic callers are either cassette/CD- or digital-based. The cassette/CD-based unit simply utilizes pre-recorded sounds of various types of crow calling. The chip-based digital system features no moving parts, and uses a digitally recorded computer chip to produce crow sounds.

A rechargeable battery powers both types of units, and can produce a great deal of volume. Electronic callers are extremely effective at attracting crows when combined with the flexibility of mouth calls. Electronic callers are also an excellent choice for the first-time crow hunter.

Decoys

Besides calling, the best thing you can do to ensure a successful crow hunt is to use decoys. Crow decoys come in all shapes and sizes from the inexpensive silhouettes to the moderate-priced full-bodied decoys, all the way up to the realistic (and somewhat expensive) motorized decoys. Although each type will effectively attract crows, they all have their advantages and disadvantages.

I prefer to use numerous decoys of various shapes, sizes and types when laying out my decoy spread. The introduction of motion decoys like the Mojo Crow and/or Crazy Crow adds an additional element of realism to any decoy spread. Motion decoys are almost a necessity when hunting educated birds that have been hunted previously.

Similar to duck decoys, it is very important to keep your crow decoys in as good condition as possible. They need to appear realistic in order to be effective in luring these clever birds. Fortunately, an inexpensive can of black spray paint is all that is necessary to replace the luster to an old set of crow decoys.

Most experienced crow hunters consider the owl decoy to be their "ace in the hole." Crows attack and chase all raptors, but have a special hatred for the great-horned owl. The key to effectively using an owl decoy is to position it so that every crow in the vicinity can spot it. Once they see the decoy, most crows will make a bee-line straight to it.

Other predator decoys that can be effectively utilized in a decoy spread would include a red-tailed hawk decoy or a red fox decoy. These predators will inflame the crow's natural hatred of its competition, making them much easier to lure into a decoy spread.

Camouflage

Any experienced crow hunter will tell you that you can never be too camouflaged. Crows have excellent eyesight, and can detect the slightest movement from a long way off.

Like the wild turkey, crows have the ability to identify the silhouette of a hunter. That is why it is extremely important to be as camouflaged as possible, which includes wearing gloves and a face mask. Pick a camouflage pattern that best mimics the surrounding vegetation. With the proper use of camouflage and concealment, you can have a successful hunt without the use of a blind.

Other options

Although wingshooting crows is great sport, sometimes a shotgun just won't work. I learned this lesson early on in my crow-hunting career. Educated crows will oftentimes land in a tree just out of shotgun range to survey your decoy spread.

When this happens, it is time to go to Plan B, which, for me, consists of a Ruger Model 10/22 in .22 magnum, and more recently a Ruger Model 77 chambered in the new flat-shooting .17 Mach 2 rimfire cartridge fitted with a 6.5-20x44mm Nikon Monarch riflescope.

Either setup is extremely efficient at knocking these black bandits off their perches at reasonable distances. Small caliber, flat-shooting rifles can certainly even the playing field on educated crows that have previous experience with decoy spreads.

"I started crow hunting because it was a lot like duck hunting," said Don Hynum, an avid crow hunter from Port Gibson. "But adding a small-caliber rifle into the mix makes crow hunting even more attractive. Combining target shooting with fast-paced wingshooting, this sport offers the best of both worlds."