Ready to give your shoulder and ears a workout? Add to your wingshooting enjoyment by blasting away at a hundred or so Mississippi crows.
Case of high-power No. 6 shells: Check.
Full-body camo, with facemask: Check.
Dozen decoys: Check.
Electronic caller with call: Check.
Ear plugs: Check, and double check.
Bottle of Ibuprofen or Tylenol: Check, and triple check.
You know you’re in for a fun morning when your hunting essentials list includes painkillers, and rest assured, no serious crow hunter will be without an ample supply.
“Don’t leave home without them,” said Dwight Partridge, “and, as a matter of fact, take a full dose as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning. An ounce of prevention is definitely in order.”
So what’s the big deal?
“If you’re lucky, you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting, as in make sure you leave home with a full case of shells for the blind,” Partridge said. “First, somebody’s going to come shorthanded, or they’re going to show up seriously underarmed, you know, with like field load 8s, like it’s a dove hunt. Carry big loads, cause these birds are tough suckers. Second, if the situation is right then everybody is going to be blasting away from tight quarters in the blind.
“And, third, if the constant shooting doesn’t kill your head, then the sound of that dad-gum calling machine will drive you up a wall. It is relentless and it is loud. By the time the hunt is over, I promise you that you will want to take that caller and blast it to smithereens.”
That warning, issued more than a decade ago, was almost enough to keep me from joining Partridge and two others on a hunt on a cold February morning in Claiborne County, a few miles south of Port Gibson, as, yep, the proverbial crow flies.
The hunt, arranged by Cliff Covington, the county extension agent, on his family farm, was perfect.
“We’re going to be set up between two commercial pecan groves, both within a mile, and we’ve got some wild pecans in that area,” Covington said. “As a matter of fact, the blind we’re going to use is built into the top of a pecan tree that was struck by lightning last year and broke in half. We’ll get in there the afternoon before and cut us out a blind, put out the decoys right before dark and be ready at the crack of dawn.”
Duck hunters would have been proud of us. There was nothing exposed that would give us away. All shell boxes were covered. All faces were hidden behind masks, or were painted. Our shooting lanes were well established.
“Everybody had their Advil?” Hynum asked, after we all heard the distant sound of a crow, then two, then three. “Got your ear plugs in?”
Hynum reached over and flipped the switch on the caller, and it unleashed this unholy cacophony that I was sure woke up people for miles.
It was a never-ending mimicry of a crow and owl fight. The two birds are enemies, and crows apparently are good about watching out for their own. When a fight is on, crows are quick to investigate.
“Get ready boys, it’s on,” Covington said, using his shotgun to point up a hill to the north. “Here they come.”
Over the next five hours, the shooting and the calling were relentless — Seriously, how did anyone design a caller that small with so much power?
More shells, please
This is how good it was. Ninety minutes in, Partridge leaned over to the two locals and asked what time the Claiborne County Co-Op opened, because we were running out of shells.
Do the math: One case equals 10 boxes of shells, 25 shells to the box. That’s 250 shells, or 62.5 shells per hunter, in 90 minutes. On average, that’s two shots every three minutes.
We took a 30-minute halftime break to refill our coffee thermoses, call the Co-Op and reserve all the high-brass 6s they had — 16 boxes — and a quick drive to town and back.
Partridge and I made the run, and popped down another four-pill dose of Ibuprofen. We enjoyed the silence, without music and without conversation except this from me: “This is fun, but I can’t wait ’til it’s over. I need a Bloody Mary to kick these Advil into high gear.”
The day finally ended at noon. We hadn’t run out of shells. We simply ran out of want-to.
I forget the total number of crows we dispatched to that great pecan orchard in the sky, but it was way north of triple figures. All were delivered to a neighbor’s hog farm, where they were put to good use.
“That’s about as much fun as you have, right there,” Hynum said. “I don’t know how you could match that. Duck hunting is great, but the limit is six. With crows, there is no limit, and when you are near productive pecans, you are not going to run out of birds.
“We shot close to a couple hundred crows, burned about 2½ cases of shells, and, look, crows are still coming.”
Having the county agent in the blind was ideal, since Covington knew well the lay of the land and had worked with the two nearby pecan farmers. They were both having productive years, but were besieged by crows.
“Man, they hate crows,” he said. “We’re doing them a great service, and are having fun doing it. We killed about 200 of them today, and I read somewhere where a single crow can eat over 7 pounds of pecans per season.”
Get in the way
That Covington’s farm sat directly on the flight path between the two pecan groves — and offered several wild pecan trees — put us right in the sweet spot.
It also helped that Hynum and Covington knew exactly how to set up the hunt, with the proper decoy display that included an owl decoy I kept on my pontoon boat when moored to keep birds away.
“You need at least a dozen crow decoys and the one owl, but it’s best to have two dozen,” Hynum said. “One of them has to be off the ground in the tree, near the owl. Crows always have a sentry bird to overlook the flock, watching for predators like owls and raptors.
“Once you start shooting, and killing crows, all the dead birds just add to the decoy spread. We may have started with 24 decoys, but we finished with nearly 200 or so.”
Every few minutes, between flights of flocks, one of us would go out and turn over any crows that were laying feet up.
“They’ve got keen eyesight,” Covington said, “and they are very smart. One thing you have to do is not let a crippled crow get away. It always happens once or twice during a hunt that a wounded crow will manage to fly just out of gun range before it hits the ground or a limb. Once it’s out there on the fringe, it will begin warning and calling other birds, and that can mess up a hunt. Somebody will have to go and kill it or at least drive it away.”
It happened to us three times that morning, and Covington was correct. Each time, the injured crows wouldn’t shut up. We watched as incoming each incoming flock would veer toward it instead of flying into our death trap, or what Partridge called our “ring of no return.”
A professional approach
There is another way to shoot crows, but requires a lot more dedication and expertise, since no electronic calling device is used.
Through acquaintances at Mossy Oak, I met a guy from Georgia who was as close to a professional crow hunter as you can get. When Jerry Tomlin agreed to drive over for the hunt, I called a huge commercial pecan grower, and he was happy to have help getting rid of crows.
Tomlin, who produced a few videos in the 1990s and began guiding hunts, is often hired by pecan growers to control crop depredation. Rarely, he said, would a pecan farmer deny him an opportunity to hunt crows.
This guy could talk crow, literally and figuratively. He knew the language, from the hailing calls to the important all-clear calls. He also knew crow biology.
“Just like duck hunting,” Tomlin said. “There are calls to get their attention, there are calls to calm them down, calls to alert them and calls to tell them, ‘It is okay; you are safe to feed here.’ Knowing the difference is the key, that and the importance of decoys. If you can call a crow close enough to see the decoys, you can shut up, and the dekes will finish the job.”
Knowing where to sit in the blind with Tomlin was important, too, and why this form of crow hunting also requires a full dose of Ibuprofen before, during and after the hunt.
That man could forevermore blow a crow call, which I learned at sunrise in freezing temperatures while running a 102-degree fever. We’d been there about 5 minutes when we heard a distant crow holler “caw, caw, caw” perhaps two counties over, or so it seemed.
“CAW, CAW, CAW” blasted in my left ear as Tomlin taught me lesson No. 1 — sit behind him.
Lesson No. 2: “Whatever call a crow makes at that distance, answer it exactly. If he caws three times, you caw three times.”
Sure enough, a few seconds later, we got an answer from the same direction, the same “caw, caw, caw,” only this time it was noticeably closer.
Tomlin answered exactly the same way, and the bird responded again, this time with just two caws, again closer. Tomlin gave him two back.
“Keep your eyes to the left; he or they should pop over that tree line any second now,” he said. “I’m going to let you shoot, and if there’s just the one crow, kill it. If there’s more than one, be darned sure you shoot the leader. No matter what, target the leader.”
In a matter of seconds, a crow appeared over the tree line headed right at us and then another, and another, and eventually seven crows were visible.
“Remember, lead crow first, then any of the rest, when I say now,” Tomlin said.
The crows came in and started circling at the edge of the pecan grove. We were about 100 yards in from the edge in Tomlin’s ground blind. The lead crow was looking for the crow responsible for answering him.
Through binoculars, I saw him looking right at us, and I could tell the second he saw the array of decoys — he turned and led the small group right into the spread, on a flight path directly across from us.
“Now,” Tomlin whispered, “get that lead bird.”
Of course, in my excitement, I missed, shooting behind the lead bird, hitting the second one instead.
“BAM! BAM!” roared Tomlin’s gun, the lead bird fell, and I jumped out of my skin. My heart started beating again just as Tomlin hit the calls again. This time a series of three “ca-caws,” followed by this advice, “Watch and get ready, and again, try to shoot the lead bird.”
Responding to Tomlin’s call, which he described as the “It’s okay, there’s food to eat here” call, the five remaining crows circled and came back. This time, I got the first one with one shot and used my other two shells to get the last bird in the line.
“Ca-caw, ca-caw, ca-caw,” Tomlin called again.
The other three crows came back and, with my gun now empty, Tomlin rose and took all three out. All seven crows were done, and our decoy count rose from 30 to 37.
“Doesn’t always work that way, but if you can take the lead crow out, and then hit them with that all clear, it’s OK to eat call, the rest of the birds will think he just went down and started eating,” Tomlin said. “A lot of times they will turn and come back. Otherwise, they’re gone”
Later in the morning, Tomlin taught me another lesson. I shot and winged a solo bird, which continued about 100 yards while it managed a slow glide to earth. Upon landing, it started this horrible, continuous cawing.
“Dang,” said Tomlin, who, without another word, sprung out of the blind, ran to the crow and finished the job. He brought it back and tossed into the decoy array.
“That can ruin a setup in a heart beat,” Tomlin said. “The last thing you want is a wounded crow competing with your calling, because he’s going to be making a warning call. Doesn’t matter what you do; any birds that come will immediately go to his aid. They are very protective.”
It’s the same theory behind the tape of the crow and owl fight, he said.
“The reason that works is that the crows will hear it and come to the aid of their buddy,” Tomlin said. “Owls and crows are natural enemies.
“I started hunting that way, too,” Tomlin said, “but I learned to call, and I think it is more fun, more challenging, to call the birds. You may not get as many shots this way, but it’s just more fun.”
And, I might add, it’s slightly easier on the ears.
Mississippi crow particulars
- Mississippi statewide season: Open through Feb. 28.
- Daily limit: None.
- Preferred weapons: Most crow hunters use 12-gauge semi-automatic shotguns with high-brass No. 6s. Crows are big birds and can take a load of smaller shot, fly beyond the decoys and fall, which, if it survives, can create competition in calling and ruin a hunt. A 20-gauge is effective with the No. 6s or larger shot, helping youngsters get in on the action. Some hunters also carry a scoped .22 rimfire to pick off birds that land in nearby trees.
- Calls: Until you learn the individual calls, it is best to use the electronic calling system that broadcasts a crow and owl fight. Many game-call producers, such as Primos, make a variety of calls that offer different tones. Most also offer “how-to” videos, plus there is a plethora of free instruction available online.
- Decoys: Dozens of brands are available. Just be sure in Mississippi to have the common crow; there are scores of sub-species. Use a couple dozen and make sure you include a elevated sentry decoy, like in a tree, since that is common crow behavior. As the shoot progresses, dead crows will add to the array, but make sure you keep them within shooting range and that they are not upside down or in a peculiar position.
- Location: Most pecan growers will gladly allow access to sportsmen, at least to those who promise to clean up after the shoot. A single crow can eat as much as 7 pounds of pecans in a season. Depredation is reason enough to hunt a species that you wouldn’t otherwise use.
- Table fare: Crows can be eaten. Their breasts are dark, like a dove or a duck, though the taste is stronger and the meat less tender. Therefore, most recipes call for crow breasts to be stewed or used in a gumbo.
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