"From around Christmas until the end of January crows tend to congregate more," veteran crow hunter Darrell Gibson said. "You'll not only have the resident birds, but the northern flocks will be migrating down. The numbers of migratory birds will depend on the weather up north.

"When the weather gets nasty up there, we'll get a push of crows down here."

Gibson's words came in a hushed undertone. You couldn't see his lips moving because he was wearing full camouflage, head to toe, and one could barely distinguish him from the natural surroundings that he'd meshed together to conceal his location.

"Ca, Ca, Ca, Ca, Caw, Caw, Ca, Ca Ca" Gibson cawed on his handheld custom crow call.

Like most animals, crows have a language all their own, and Gibson was doing his best imitation of a group of troublemakers provoking a fight. Several minutes later, the first bird, the one Gibson identified as the sentry, winged in overhead to investigate.

Stepping up the crescendo, Gibson lured the bird within range of the motion decoy that was bouncing back and forth some 20 yards in front of him.

As the bird dropped in to land in a tree over the top of the fracas, Gibson rose from the makeshift blind and let the bird eat its fill of No. 6 lead.

Twisting sharply, he fired again at a second bird that had committed when the sentry committed to the set of foam decoys that had been placed along the perimeter of the fight.

"We'll add these two to the spread; the flock gets bigger," Gibson said.

Hunting for crows can be broken down into two main strategies. The first is a run-and-gun approach where hunters pick a likely feeding or congregating point and try to elicit an emotional response from whatever crows are in the area before moving to the next location.

The second tactic is feeding-area hunting, which is akin to inland duck hunting minus the water. The hunters stake out a blind near a food source such as a grain field or pecan orchard, use decoys in feeding setups and call in a friendly manner to draw the crows to the gun.

Gibson is a fan of the run-and-gun. The type of calling that goes along with this style is an aggressive, looking-for-a-fight-type call. It tells crows within earshot that a predator or intruder is up to no good and triggers the flock, which incidentally is known as a "murder," into action.

"Aggressive calling works best in close-quarter situations, where the crows can't see you from far off," Gibson said. "With this type of hunting and calling, I like to display a motion decoy, which looks like a crippled crow hopping on the ground. Place a couple of dead crows in the spread, and you're likely to start a fight."

According to Gibson, crows are not as gung-ho as might be expected, especially if they've been hunted a good bit and figure out it's a setup. They recognize the sight of a man as immediate danger, so even with running-and-gunning, hunters have to stay camoed and concealed under cover till it's time to shoot.

"Crows can be cautious, but they are easily excitable and like nothing more than a fight," Gibson said. "They'll come swarming in to harass a hawk or fight off an owl. Owls are natural predators of crows."

Like Gibson, Calhoun County native John Harrison has been an avid crow hunter since he was a young boy and learned the art of calling crows at the feet of his father.

While electronic calls are legal for crow hunting, both Gibson and Harrison prefer to call by mouth; Gibson uses a call, Harrison doesn't.

"I don't even know if there was such a thing as a crow call when I was a kid," Harrison said. "I learned how to call them with just my mouth from my daddy when I was a boy coming up.

"He'd just stop on the side of the road and we'd get out and get in a ditch, and he'd go to calling them and they'd just show up from everywhere."

Finding locations for run-and-gun crow hunting is at least half the battle. Crows are drawn to long-term food sources. These locations include cut-over corn and grain fields, peanut fields, pecan groves, chicken farms and orchards.

Harrison claims many of these locations can be found on public land, but it helps tremendously to have permission to hunt several likely private locations before setting out to hunt.

"You can ride country roads and look in these corn fields in the winter time. Crows bunch up in wintertime," he said. "You'll see them out in the field. You might see 200 crows out in a field,.

"The first thing is to spot the crows, and the second thing is to get the landowner's permission. It'll even work on government land; you can find them because they work government land here. You can find them in bean fields, but your best idea is a corn field."

Harrison also takes a run-and-gun approach to hunting crows. Because of his reliance on mobility, he prefers to use natural cover and personal camoflauge to stay hidden.

He also doesn't have much use for decoys.

"What you need is some pine trees, and when you get in them pine thickets, I'm talking 15- to 20-year-old pines that's not way out of range when they come in and you've got good cover underneath," said Harrison. "Then you get totally camouflaged. I'm talking from head to toe, full camouflage, head net and all.

"Crows got one of the sharpest eyes. And you don't move."

Then it's just a matter of bringing birds within range.

"Get settled in that thicket, and you start calling," he said. "Most times, the first one will be a little spooky, but after that first one the more they hear that call, the more will come."

The key is not to fire too soon.

"You don't shoot till you've got a bunch of them circling," Harrison said. "You may kill as (many) as 10 or 15; then you'll have to move and change locations."

With all of the pains taken to stay hidden, to use proper calling sequences and sometimes to even provide decoy support, it would stand to reason that crows would head for the next county after the first shot.

Strangely, that's not the case. Both Gibson and Harrison claim that crows don't recognize gunshots as danger.

"Farmers across the country use propane cannons to scare birds away," Gibson said. "It's an awful loud boom; it might move the birds off, but I've watched them flap off, then turn and come right back after one of those cannons went off.

"Dynamite, deer rifles, thunder - crows hear a lot of different loud noises, and they just don't associate being shot at with danger.

"I guess that's understandable, if that's the last sound the bird ever hears."

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

Where to hunt

While all public lands are open for crow hunting during small-game seasons where permitted, few public lands contain the extended food sources to attract numbers of crows. Most public land hunting will be a matter of running-and-gunning if, by chance, a hunter locates a gathering of crows in the area and can coax them in to a fighting call.

Gaining permission to hunt feeding locations requires a bit of legwork on behalf of the hunter. Farmers and land managers typically view crows as varmints, bent only on damaging crops.

However, the increasing popularity of crow hunting may have many places already spoken for or landowners may simply not be conducive to any type of hunting. Offering to lease land may increase your chances of having private land to hunt, but be sure to spend plenty of scouting time to ensure the land you are leasing holds favor in the eyes of the birds.

Best tactics

Crow hunting can be broken down into two primary strategies: stationary feeding area hunting, and running and gunning.

Running and gunning involves slipping into a crow-conducive area and creating a ruckus via motion, decoys and/or rally calls that simulate crows battling a predator or invader. This strategy relies on the crow's fight response to draw them into the conflict, within range of the guns.

Often the shooting is fast and furious for several minutes, as numerous crows invade the area at once.

Stationary feeding is akin to inland duck hunting minus the water. The hunters stake out a blind near a food source such as a grain field or pecan orchard, use decoys in feeding setups and call in a friendly manner to draw the crows to the gun. In a feeding strategy, crows come in at the rate of one, two and three at a time, and shooting may last for several hours versus several minutes.

Season dates/Crow regulations

Crow season in Mississippi began Nov. 3 and runs through Feb. 26. There is no daily bag limit for crows, nor is there a possession limit. Electrically operated calling or sound-reproducing devices may be used for hunting nuisance animals and crows only.

More info

Crow Busters. www.crowbusters.com

CrowMart Super Store, http://www.crowmart.com/

Darrell Gibson Custom Calls, 828-287-9277

Maps

Delorme Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, 1 (800) 561-5105 www.delorme.com, MDWFP, 601-432-2400, www.mdwfp.com