The right tools for the job can improve success in the field and here Tom Sykes lists what he rates as the ultimate gear
Crow shooting is a wonderful game of cat and mouse against a rather cunning adversary. The shooting provides excellent sporting opportunities and essential pest management, as crows will cause tremendous damage, both in terms of wildlife and agriculture, if left unchecked. Unfortunately, the ongoing destruction caused by crows makes them public enemy number one on my permission. In order to be truly successful, you do need the best crow shooting kit.
Crow control isn’t only about having a nice afternoon — you really need to get the job done.
Tom’s essential crow shooting kit
The crow shooting kit on my list has all been picked with the aim of effectively and ethically putting birds in the bag. Crow shooting provides great sport but we must also do it as professionally as we can. Needless to say, corvid control is currently under the spotlight but it’s essential that we carry on doing it in order to maintain a balance in the countryside and to do our bit for gamebirds and for farmers, but also for species such as the curlew.
Using a hide is the most common concealment method in a decoyer’s arsenal. Hides provide the relevant cover to keep us hidden in a comfortable environment to sit and watch as time passes by. There are endless options for hides and materials, from natural cover to the wide assortment of camouflage netting on the market.
I have become a fan of 3D leaf ponchos. The primary function may be to throw over any clothing to instantly create a camouflage outfit. However, the poncho doubles as an excellent net for hides and has thus become my favourite and a key part of my crow shooting kit.
For starters, the camouflage pattern is incredibly versatile against a range of backdrops, making the net ideal for most situations. It’s a real one hide does all. The 3D leaf effect aids with concealment because it helps to break up any unnatural lines and shapes. It also reflects the light in a varied way, which assists with general concealment. (You might like to read our list of best camouflage jackets too.)
The poncho’s mesh construction, with the leafy strips stitched on to it, makes the net great for observing through as a hide, while providing perfect cover from any approaching quarry. The concealment properties even prevent my white labrador, Goose, from being visible when he is in the hide, which takes some doing.
The additional advantages are that the material is super-lightweight, compact and fast-drying. It is a true multi-purpose bit of kit, not to mention that it provides really remarkable value for money.
Decoy choice is always down to personal preference, situations and budget. I have an extensive collection of various designs, but I have favoured Sillosocks in recent years. They may appear somewhat quirky when examined up close, but are exceedingly deadly when used in a spread.
The design and materials make them lightweight and easy to carry in bulk if a large spread is required. They are also super-fast to deploy, making them great for those running and gunning situations. I have fallen in love with the entire Sillosocks range and have had tremendous success with the crow decoys in summer, and again with the goose version when I change focus in the winter months.
The design allows the cloth section of the decoys to fill with air and create movement with a slight breeze, which certainly helps add realism to the pattern. In addition, the Sillosocks hyper-flappers are fantastic at replicating flying birds, adding a new dimension to the spread for extra movement and variation.
I have been a massive fan of Gamebore cartridges for years and now use them across the board, be it the wonderful steel shells for the foreshore or the premium lead for pheasants and pests. When shooting crows, I typically use Clear Pigeon 32g No 6s for the majority of my decoying. Another essential part of my crow shooting kit.
These are great shells that do the damage without taking a toll on my shoulder or cheek throughout a busy session. However, if the birds aren’t committing as well as expected, or if I generally need more firepower, I will switch to 34g No 5s Pigeon Extreme, endorsed by George Digweed.
These are genuinely amazing cartridges, with immense stopping power for any birds within a large radius of my position. As with most shooters, I am rattling through the last of my lead stock before the full transition to lead-free ammunition. Being a wildfowler first and foremost, I have no issues with the steel alternatives and have only delayed making the full switch due to plastic wads.
The new bio wads have been a real game changer and a good 32g 4s or 5s in steel will be the perfect cartridge of choice when the last of my lead reserves are depleted. (Read how to choose the best rifle for crow shooting.)
I use the Kicks Industries High Flyer choke tubes in almost every multichoke gun that I own. Despite being primarily designed to aid steel shot performance, the High Flyer range is also phenomenal when teamed with lead ammunition. I mostly use the half- choke as it seems to provide the best pattern for mid to long shots, making it the most versatile for my shooting and style.
I also have a full choke that I will bring out on occasions, but this is super-tight and can often be too much for standard decoying shots. The chokes practically live in my guns and have proved most effective on crows. The choke and ammunition combination packs a real punch and helps to provide a swift, clean blow to any quarry venturing too close.
Technology seeps into all areas of our lives and the humble pigeon flapper has been in production for many years, helping shooters add birds to the bag. These aren’t only for the pigeon enthusiast because they can be deployed in a crow pattern with devastating consequences for the local crow population. I use the Flightline Decoys FF6 Flapper in my spread.
The model I have has adjustable speed, allowing me to slow down the wingbeat to replicate the slower flight style of corvids. I can also alter the pattern of wingbeats, either having the flapper running constantly or in set timed sequences.
The FF6 is revolutionary when adding movement to a decoy spread. The motion replicates a bird coming into the decoys, while being immensely eye-catching for any passing quarry. They are also compact and easy to deploy when compared with other gadgets, such as magnets.
The last thing on my list has to be a ShotKam. It is a small camera that attaches to the barrel of a gun and records the shot, with a reference reticle on the video clips showing the gun’s point of aim. I have been a massive fan of these since I first tested one many moons ago.
The camera has two main jobs for me when out in the field. First, I can use it as a training aid to replay the action in the hide using the built-in Wi-Fi to see where I was going wrong on a missed bird. The second job is to document the action from the day, which I can later share with friends and look back on.
The valuable information harvested from ShotKam improved my shooting ability on a range of quarry species. For example, I sometimes lose faith in my shooting if I miss a lethargic carrion hovering over the decoys. Playing back the footage and quickly analysing the shot can stop the rot setting in and salvage the day. More often than not, I have applied too much lead with crows, but that can be quickly rectified on the following approaching bird.