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Shooting crows – what works and what doesn’t

Tom Sykes looks at some 'myths' associated with crow shooting that people have come to believe are necessary 'rules' to follow

crow shooting

There are many different opinions about what will and won’t work when it comes to shooting crows. Over the years, I have taken a lot of these with a pinch of salt and gone out of my way to test different theories to see if some popular beliefs bear scrutiny.

I have been asked many questions from people who have been told that you must do certain things when on the crows or your day in the hide would be a failure. Yes, some points may help improve your odds of success, but that doesn’t mean that they are the key to success. Beginners are often the ones beset by such advice.

Crow decoys

Plastic decoys give off a shine similar to that of corvids in the sun

Myths and truths about crow shooting

1.You mustn’t use shiny decoys

This is something that I debunked several years ago after successfully making crow rags out of bamboo canes and bin bags. The bin liners will give off a shine on sunny days, but this can be similar to how corvids look on bright summer days. The advantage to the rags is that they are cheap and easy to make, meaning that you can set a large spread, which gives a major advantage when decoying. I have always had success when using the rags and have not encountered any adverse effects. Plastic store-bought decoys also work well when they aren’t flocked. They may not be as prominent from a distance, but they will certainly do the job.

crow shooting

Tom has had great success with his bin liner crow rags

crow shooting

A hide with a roof can make all the difference in certain circumstances

2. Hides should have a roof

This is an interesting one and depends on the circumstances. I have had success with and without the use of a roof and typically I make the decision to have one based on the situation. There are occasions where they aren’t necessary if you build a decent hide. I primarily use two different types of umbrellas to provide cover from above. They give extra cover, but they can also hinder your vision and allow birds to get into the decoys without being detected. This isn’t always an issue as they are often well into the decoy spread, allowing plenty of time to get a shot off before they escape the range of the gun. However, it does mean that you need to be on your toes for those close-quarter engagements.

shooting crows

Shooting crows in pheasant pens stops them raiding hoppers

3. You can’t shoot crows around pheasant pens

I have had lots of comments over the years that you shouldn’t shoot around pheasant poults, especially when it comes to decoying in the pens. Crows will take any advantage of a free easy meal and we find that every year they will target the hoppers in the pens. I have had countless successful mornings shooting in the pens and find it is great sport while providing a much-needed service to the keepers. The crows can certainly eat their share of food, which will dramatically increase the feed bill as well as the disease risk to the poults by having more birds congregating around pens. After a few initial flutters from the first shots of the day, the pheasants will typically settle down and continue with their morning routine despite the shooting. It is imperative to keep an eye on the birds and though I have not experienced any issues, if the pheasant poults become distressed or flighty, then I would recommend stopping and consider alternatives such as ambushing the flightlines further away from the pen.

4. Camouflage clothing is essential

Camouflage clothing can certainly help and give you the upper hand in certain situations. The 3D leaf suits that we wear are certainly a game-changer on those scorching summer days as they are thin netting, which allows breathability and gives concealment. However, camouflage clothing isn’t always a necessity. Most of my clothing is drab earthy tones, which is just as good for most situations when using other fieldcraft and concealment techniques. Movement is one of the biggest giveaways that can be spotted easily by quarry. This can be combated with the use of a good hide, natural vegetation or keeping movement to a minimum.

5. You must wear a face covering

Though face covering has become the new norm due to the pandemic, with regard to decoying it is a common topic of debate as to whether you need one or not. Certainly, peering over a hide with a bare face can give the game away and this comes down to good fieldcraft. However, there are undoubtedly occasions when a face veil or buff can be a boon. I don’t really suffer in this department due to the advantage of my ever-growing beard, which makes me resemble a mountain man. I have never liked wearing face veils or buffs due to the restrictions to my calling and a general awkwardness. I have found that for most shooting they aren’t needed. Where I do think they are useful is when in a layout blind in the middle of the decoy spread or when shooting without a hide. Having some form of cover, be it a net or the peak of a hat, is helpful, unless you wish to grow a beard to break up the shine of your face, that is.

English countryside early in morning

Setting up before first light often gives you the best chance of success

6. Shoot crows in the morning

This is one theory that I normally put into practice. Setting up before first light regularly results in the best chance of success as you can get a steady stream of birds coming into the decoys without being disturbed. There are exceptions, and I have had some good afternoons into late evenings shooting corvids, especially on hot summer days when they have spent the heat of the day resting in nearby woodland. The key to this is not to disturb the birds off the field when setting up, as I find that this produces the poorest outings in the hide. Corvids seem to know what the game is if you push them off and set the ambush with scouts watching, typically resulting in fewer birds returning to the field. It is probably fairer to say that a lot of the points aren’t really myths and are based on people’s experiences and do have an element of truth to them. The difference is that being aware of such issues and adjusting spreads accordingly can help to increase the productivity of a day. I like to experiment and test things as well as providing a service for farmers and gamekeepers. If I was out for a day and wanted to give myself the best chance of success, then I would probably build a good bunker-style hide in the right location, use the best decoys, wear camouflage and use a moderated shotgun. This may account for a few extra birds on the day but isn’t always necessary.