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The dawn invasion

My team held off from shooting the mixed crows during the months of March, April and May, mainly because the adult crows were engaged in breeding. My conscience led me to consider the young in the nest with both parents out there trying to collect sufficient food for the nest?s occupants. But perhaps other Guns have different views about this, and naturally, carrion crows and magpies are excluded from the amnesty. At the same time, farmers are not quite so paranoid about the presence of a few dozen or even 100 or so. So we?d been setting up at about 9am and shooting a few each time, to show that we were doing our bit for vermin control. But suddenly, the picture changed.

Risks to cattle

At last it was a time when the noisy branchers join their parents and other mixed crows to attend the best restaurant in the area. For each pair of crows there were now seven, including the two parents, and as a result, the marauding numbers had suddenly swollen to more than 2,000.

The farmer was soon on the phone, calling for urgent assistance. His main concerns were that the birds were consuming expensive cattle food, added to which there was a risk of disease being transferred. I promised a same-day reconnaissance, which confirmed the quantities. Not only were they in with the milking cows, but also the fledglings were squawking to call their parents from the surrounding trees and adjoining fields. In addition, there was a large concentration of them in the silage pits and corn stores. It was time to organise a plan.

Congregating in the silage pits

I made a few brief phone calls to the members of my team and quickly set the agenda. I?d already agreed to take some friends to the airport at 4am, so I volunteered to take the early shift. Tom was, as usual, as keen as mustard and agreed to be with me by 6am, and Neil at 10am, followed by Jim, Pete and Nobby at 2pm for the afternoon stint.

The plan was for the latter three to stay until 6pm if the attack continued into the evening. Mixed crows will feed right up to dusk, but our team consists of only nine members and the remainder were unavailable due to work and
family commitments.

I had a quick peep out of the window at 3am and saw heavy fog ? precisely what I didn?t want to see. Then a delay on the way to the airport seriously hampered progress. I rushed back home to change vehicles, load the guns and bag the defrosted crows that had been laid out to thaw the previous day.
Tom was already there at 5.15am, but by now it was too late, as the crows were present in fair numbers. We knew well enough the set-up locations, and a quick reconnaissance confirmed where we should already have been positioned. The 500 or 600 birds were congregating in the silage and corn store area ? the small oak tree was black with crows.

Tom selected a favourite position with his back to the small oak on the farm track facing south and on one of the main flightlines. He rapidly positioned a mix of defrosted and flocked crows in front of his hide and oak tree. In addition, he placed a few pigeon decoys to the side, hoping to attract pigeon feeding on clover, further out. I drove up to the top end of the stores and silage pits to cover a flightline from the north-west, in front of one wood and to the right of another. I?d noticed a relatively large number of birds sitting on a pile of chalk, which had been dumped ready for use as foundation flooring for a new barn.

We were lucky not to be pestered by any of the three herds of cows as it is impossible to shoot over any field that they occupy. They are not just inquisitive, but seem to delight in trampling on decoys or eating anything, from flocked crows to hide poles.

I first took the hide seat and billhook to prepare the ground for the hide. Fortunately, the ground was level and the brambles, stinging nettles, and shrubs could be removed quickly and placed far enough away, so as not to cause us difficulty when erecting and dismantling the netting.

My favourite box-shaped hide was erected with the back poles at about 6.5ft to conceal me from the sides, and a second net to disguise my silhouette at the back. Inside the hide I took most of my targets from the sitting position, which prevents the birds from spotting me and taking evasive action once they are over the pattern. Next, as always, I moved all necessary items into the hide that I?d need, including gun and ammunition. That done, I was ready to station the decoys into a two-flock pattern.

Unfortunately, I discovered that in the rush I?d forgotten to take the defrosted crows from the garage, so I had to adopt plan B. I positioned eight or nine flocked birds on top of the chalk pile in front of my hide and the black flocking stood out against the bright white chalk.

Once inside the hide, I loaded my Hushpower 20-bore over-and-under with a couple of squibs (Gamebore Hushpower 30g of No. 5) ready for the first crow. This gun is fixed-choke, three-quarters and full ? an ideal combination for a task such as this. Within a couple of minutes, a singleton appeared over the wood to my front, heading straight towards me. Halfway across the field, it set its wings in the gliding position and dropped lower. Slipping off the safety catch, I slid the gun into my shoulder. The crow folded. Four more followed. I then set up a second decoy pattern to the right giving a killing area between the two flocks.

Tom, meanwhile, was making a great deal of noise with his standard 12, mainly in the form of single shots, which indicated that he was shooting accurately, as usual. Business was brisk for both of us for the next two hours. I called Tom to change hides, as I wanted him to try the moderated gun so that I could experience the noise difference at a distance of 200 yards.

From Tom?s hide I watched a pair approaching my location from the other side of the field. As they closed, Tom suddenly fired both barrels and unfortunately the double crack was just enough to cause them to veer away.
The next single bird came in even lower and halfway across the field. Tom fired again, this time a single shot. This bird didn?t even flinch, coming in confidently right over the pattern to drop in the track.

Neil then arrived at 11am, as promised. My plan was to hand over my position to him, as I had some pressing jobs at home. I stayed for a while, helping to set up yet another batch of dead birds and to give him a crack with the Hushpower shotgun.

I then made an attempt to stalk up behind a flock of about 300 crows which were finishing the leftovers from the feed mix that had been dropped off for a herd of dry cows. I?d planned to send them over the two hides, but they were far too wise to fall for that one and scattered in every other direction so I left and returned home, knowing that the other three Guns would replace me at 2pm.

Neil arrived at my home at 4.30pm to return my equipment and give me his bag details ? 39 mixed crows, two magpies and three pigeon. Later in the evening, the afternoon lads reported their totals. They had not enjoyed our level of success, but they had at least kept the crows away from the cattle feed for the rest of the day. The grand total was 192 mixed crows, three magpies and nine pigeon.

With hindsight we should have done better ? our late start had given some of them enough time for breakfast. However, the farmer was happy knowing that we would be back in a few days? time to continue the job as a mark of thanks for all the pigeon shooting throughout the year.