Keep calm and carrion…
PUBLISHED: 15:02 25 February 2013 | UPDATED: 15:02 25 February 2013
A change is as good as a rest, they say. Crowman decides to live up to his name and targets some cob-robbing corvids
It is eye-wateringly, lip-chappingly, finger-numbingly cold. And judging by the paltry few birds on the deck, hardly a hotspot in terms of action, either. Fortunately I have spent this wild, wet and bitter morning in a warm office and have arrived chez Crowman in time to restore spirits and warmth with some hot coffee and a sausage roll from the nearest garage.
I also point out the swarming clouds of crows frequenting the trees on the opposite side of the maize stubble. Greeted by the icy stare of a merciless killer, I suddenly understand what it must be like to be a pigeon on the Kent/Surrey borders! In truth, Andy had already drawn the conclusion that a move was on the cards and I help him decamp and shift to the opposite side of the stubble field. There we find shelter from the wind, cover from the trees and, remarkably, some sunshine. All we need now is birds.
Andy doesn’t shoot huge numbers of crows – it takes a lot to draw him away from the pigeons. But when numbers get really high and an opportunity presents itself, he is happy to add it to his pest control rota. Corvids can be a nuisance and are linked to declining songbird numbers. I have watched jays and magpies steal live young from songbird nests outside the office window and there seems to be a marked increase in local populations in recent years.
They are sharp-eyed and keenly intelligent. It has been said that they are able to spot the difference between a man walking with a gun and a man without. They are also sensitive to movement, meaning a well-made hide is essential. Andy likes to be able to keep his head right down and watch them through the netting, only emerging at the last minute to take the shot.
“I’d prefer to use full-bodied decoys, as realism is important. They can spot when something looks wrong and they will steer clear. But theses shell decoys are flocked and, if placed correctly, look pretty good.” With gregarious birds that feed in large numbers, it is important to have a decent number of decoys out. And as there have also been large numbers of pigeons on the maize cobs, Andy can’t resist chucking a few greys and a whirly into the pattern – just in case. Old habits die hard. He incorporates a crow flapper, too, and retires to the hide to wait.
There are plenty of birds dropping in on the opposite side of the field where we have just moved from, causing Andy some frustration, but there are also plenty flighting by. The bank and trees behind shelter us from view and as they bank round to examine the decoys, Andy gets some action. Not that it is all plain sailing.
Andy finds them surprisingly tricky to shoot, despite seeming much slower than the pigeons he hits with relentless accuracy. “They will flare at any movement and on a day like today, they almost stop dead with the wind under those big wings. They almost seem to fly backwards! Well, no pigeon ever does that; they might jink a bit but they follow a line more consistently and deviate less. Yet other days the crows can come in slow and steady and be a doddle to shoot.”
George Digweed believes that you can shoot crows effectively at longer ranges – if your skill and kit are up to the job – as they will often fly slowly and in a straight line when they feel they are out of the range of danger. Although clearly it helps if you are a world champ able to hit targets out to 100 yards! For the rest of us mere mortals, even the mighty Crowman, we just have to do the best we can.
Andy uses the same cartridges (32g 6s) and chokes (quarter or half) as for his pigeon shooting. He likes to limit the range to less than 50 yards, but not all of the crows are keen to play by the rules, with many flaring and moving off just out of range. As a result it’s not the bumper bag we had hoped for, but the crows keep coming and a few decoy with greater conviction as the sun heads towards the horizon. With the odd lightning fast pigeon also finding its way into the bag, it’s a pleasant afternoon’s sport.
It’s certainly a challenge in these conditions – to your fieldcraft, patience and shooting skill. That’s what makes for a good day’s shooting, after all – and if there are a few less egg-stealers and crop-robbers on the ground come springtime, so much the better.
Rooks are usually more gregarious than crows, but the latter become sociable in winter roosts
Corvids are highly intelligent, with a brain-to-body mass ratio only slightly lower than humans and equal to the great apes
By Dom Holtam