Raindrops dripping down my neck from the overhanging branches did little to dampen my enthusiasm as a 4am start had positioned me in my favourite site for a spot of crow shooting. The underlying cold that has existed for weeks here in the Surrey Hills was making way for spring and the wildlife knew it — the dawn chorus was distinctly orchestral. To me nothing is more emotive than the distant kaw-kaw of a crow signalling the new day.

Shooters, regardless of their preferred quarry, enjoy their sport for its ability to transfer them from their day-to-day life into a world where they can lose themselves for a few hours. Certainly the thrill of a morning’s roebuck stalking is high on many people’s list, but I enjoy every moment in the woods or hills whether I shoot or not, and increasingly I take pleasure in pursuing smaller yet no less worthy quarry.

At this time of year, and especially after the recent hard conditions, the noise of crows and other corvids seems more apparent. Traditionally, crows were a quarry for the shotgun, but increasingly — and not without causing some disdain among the old school — the wily old crow is being taken with a rifle. This can elicit outrage from people concerned about shooting into trees with a solid projectile. Understandably so, but any safe shooter always considers the likelihood of ricochets and always ensures a safe backdrop to their shots.

I find stalking a crow with a rifle is true stalking. They seldom give you a second chance and the balance is tipped in favour of the quarry, which to me is a good thing. There is a wide choice of rifles or cartridges suitable for the task and the style of shooting is also important, whether it involves stalking in close, sitting in a hide, baiting or long-range centrefire shooting. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

I have two distinct approaches to crow shooting. The first is to sit and wait. Whether from a hide, hayloft or tucked up in a drainage ditch, it matters little, so long as a bit of forethought has gone into positioning oneself on a flightline, near a sitty tree or near a source of food. The second approach is to stalk — spotting a crow at a distance and then stealthily closing in, depending on the calibre, to take a shot. If this fails, as it often does, I usually stay put and set up a position overlooking woodland or fields that provide food and wait for quarry to come within range.

Crow control on the farm

As dawn broke, I was crouched behind some bales overlooking a silage area to my left. This offered a safe backdrop for a .22 rimfire and allowed me to lure in crows with bait. On the way into the farm I had shot a magpie and I placed this 75 yards from my position and waited. Behind me, a barn offered great cover and also allowed the option of a more elevated position and safe use of any centrefire crow round to tackle the birds out in the ploughed field.

Ordinarily, if you carry two rifles you never seem to have the right one to hand when you need it, but for me this approach has been successful over the years. Besides, the landowner expected results as his farm is a magnet for crows as well as magpies and jackdaws. Keeping the levels down helps everybody and offers really good sport, demanding a high degree of skill. Crows seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to discovering you or your intent.

Many shooters have a .22 rimfire. Though it is capable of shooting crows, thanks to its ability to overpenetrate and ricochet, it should only be used from an elevated position shooting into the ground or with a suitable backdrop. A head shot is typically fatal and the use of subsonic ammunition with a sound moderator fitted can often lead to more than one crow in the bag. I have been using CCI’s new fragmenting .22 rimfire ammunition to good effect but the bullets often pass straight through and ricochets are common, albeit in several fragments rather than the one lump of lead from a conventional round.

The .22 WMR round increases velocity and noise, especially with the new Federal V-Max 30-grain load. This extends the range and makes for faster expanding shots particularly if the aim is at the body.

Probably the best short-range crow round and most commonly used today is the .17 HMR. This sends a 17-grain V-Max bullet down-range at more than 2,500fps, producing a flat trajectory and a fast expanding bullet. That is good in several ways for crows. The flat trajectory means that out to 100 yards little adjustment to aim is necessary. In addition, the faster, lighter bullet is devastating when it hits its mark, achieving humane kills. The HMR round is highly accurate, which is perfect for a small target such as a crow.

Seeing results in the field

While I mused on these options, a lone crow glided silently into the treetops, but it was obstructed by branches about 125 yards from me. It signalled to another crow and then lifted off the treetop and slipped away. As usual on the farm, the crows were hanging back from committing themselves to an approach — better to let the cannon fodder venture in first in the shape of magpies and jackdaws.

You can either leave these firstcomers alone to encourage the crows to follow or, as in this case, take a magpie. This sends most of the remaining black-feathered friends into a frenzy of cackling. Soon, another magpie will simply have to see why one of his chums refuses to fly off and eventually even the ultra-shy crow will be enticed to an easy meal.

Luck was with me. Having secured the first magpie, the second was quick to follow in the bait. There was a lull before a lone crow lumbered down on a silent arc to within 20ft of the magpie. A .22 CCI bullet despatched it in an instant. And then there were crows all around. The sound-moderated rifle meant the birds had little idea of my location and over the nexth our I accounted for two more out in the field with a .20 BR Sako rifle. Eventually, with seven shots fired and four magpies and three crows in the bag, I called it a day and left the woods to settle back to their normal routine.

The value of centrefires

Centrefires hold their own value and my .20 BR Sako rifle is a serious tool for crow shooting. It is able to send a 40-grain bullet at 4,000fps with pinpoint accuracy, meaning distant crows that think they are out of range often find they are not. Even with a sound moderator, however, if you miss, it can often be a long wait until another crow reappears. This is especially true in Scotland where shooting hooded crows from longrange is sometimes the only option. In this case the centrefire is safe to use and, for me, it is the way to go with crows. Apart from the greater cost of ammunition and more noise, the high velocity combined with a fragmenting bullet such as a V-Max, Blitz King, Berger or TNT means there is less chance of a ricochet. The impressive energy dispersal when it hits the target also helps to ensure a humane despatch.

Airguns have a distinct use in my crow battery. Usually I leave the 12ft/lb energy for rabbits and magpies as the crow is tough to get within range of, whether it is carrion or hooded. The FAC-rated Theoben .20 Eliminator I use, however, and the Daystate .177 both shoot laser-flat and allow a pinpoint shot out to 50 yards.

Head shots make for a humane kill and the major advantage that the air rifle offers over other rifles is that one can shoot with safety among the barns and skyward at lofted crows, which is a real bonus. An air rifle-only crow hunt takes far more skill than using a centrefire rifle. Where crows often use the same sitty tree, farm building, or dead tree I frequently use the “lazy lead” technique. That’s to say I use a .25 calibre air rifle, usually a BSA Tactical from a camouflaged position of no more than 20 yards. Those slow-moving large .25 pellets deliver all their energy into the crow and lift it off its feet. That’s handy when you want them to fall away from farm machinery or snagging branches.

To me, crow shooting is never a numbers game — shoot enough to please the landowner, keep a healthy population and enjoy the time spent in the woods. Shooting crows with rifles provides really challenging sport and test your skills to the limit. I, for one, rate it highly.

  • Jimlad

    Ive shot many crows from high branches with my .20 theoben carbine and out on the open land I think the 17 hmr is a good tool for the job, better than a .22 lr I reckon.