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Nought to crow about

Tom Sykes chases corvids on a Highland estate and reflects on how it differs from his standard hunting techniques

Tom Sykes visits a friend on the east coast to help control some problem corvids

Summertime is typically when I receive phone calls regarding problem corvids that need to be dealt with. Despite these calls being few and far between since moving to Scotland, a good friend of mine, a headkeeper on the east coast, called me to ask if I fancied having a go at shooting some of his crows. He explained that a few problem birds had managed to avoid his traps, and the opportunity was there if I wished to try to track them down. As I am always keen to make the most of such chances and never like to shy away from a challenge, I arranged to head over the following day.


After a two-and-a-half-hour drive, I rendezvoused with the keepers at their workshop around 8am to get the intelligence I needed on where to start my search for the crows. The estate covers thousands of acres of open hill, established woodland, clear fell, new plantations and lochs, meaning any information on the crows’ general movements were greatly appreciated to help narrow down the search and help me compile a plan of attack.

The initial sightings appeared to be varied and all over the estate, and there was no evidence to tie the birds to a particular location. After a discussion, we decided that the best plan was to head up the estate’s internal track on to the hill and head to the furthest plantation, where the hooded crows had been seen most frequently.

owl decoy

Hedwig the owl decoy is put to good use

Zero check

The intel gathered and a rough plan in place, the next port of call was to head to the estate rifle range for a quick zero. I was ‘tooled up’ for any eventuality as I had the Mossberg 500 pump with plenty of hard-hitting 35g No 5 Gamebore Pigeon Extremes, my little CZ 455 .17HMR and the Tikka T3x lite 6.5 Creedmoor on the off-chance of a fox or for a super longrange crow.


Tom uses his binos to scan the horizon for any movement

I had recently tinkered with the scope on the .17HMR and wanted to ensure that the zero was still bob on. The estate’s range has a number of steel deer targets set at different intervals – 100, 150 and 200 yards, which I utilised. Shooting the steel targets was a quick way to check that everything was zeroed, as the bullet strikes were easily observed from a distance.

The range time also allowed me to ensure that my calculations were accurate to dial into different ranges, providing me with the confidence that everything was correct with my equipment. I also had an odd shot with the Creedmoor to confirm that it was firing true before making my way up the network of estate roads to the furthest plantation.

The range has a number of steel deer targets


I kept a keen eye for any movement or visual sightings of the crows as I crept up the track. By the time I reached the plantation, I had seen plenty of deer but no crows. The plan was to sit back and use my binoculars to espy any movements by the birds and decide on the most effective method of attack. I sat, waited and watched but not a single crow did I spot. I mounted my binoculars on a tripod to help stabilise my viewing platform, which gave me an excellent view of the estate. It is a good method for covering a large area without missing anything as you cansystematically search an area in a set pattern, a technique I use a lot when on the local hills.

Tom is ready for any eventuality, but he ends the day with an empty bag and lots to think about for next time

Time passed and I realised that things wouldn’t change in a hurry, so I decided to move locations and try another strategy. I retreated further down the hill until I was in an area with clear fell on one side and a banking of established woodland on the other. This paid off as I finally spotted movement around the skyline of the clear fell. It was a small group of up to eight birds that appeared to be milling around, landing and then moving on further up the ridgeline parallel to the road. I decided to move up the hill and set an ambush.

Wise move

With the car parked, I grabbed my rucksack and guns and made my way to the fell and an outcrop of large rocks. I quickly got to work setting the ambush and hoped that my secret weapon, a hand-feathered owl decoy by the name of Hedwig, would be enough to pull the birds in range. I sat the owl decoy on one rock and added two full-bodied crow decoys around it before retreating to the natural cover of the rocky ground. I didn’t have time to put much effort in as I knew the approaching birds would soon be in sight of my position. I hunkered down and organised myself. The Mossberg was stoked up with shells and the rifles set up to cover every eventuality.

I waited patiently, scanning the horizon with the binoculars. Despite being a few hundred yards away, I started to vigorously voice call, replicating a semi-distressed crow. It was only a short while until I had their attention and they began to call as they headed my way. I tried to tuck myself under the cover of rocks as the birds closed the distance.

I peered over the rock and locked in on one of the crows heading my way. Just before I mounted the gun, I was spotted by a flanking bird that caught my eye off to the left at the last minute, resulting in the whole flock flaring. I mounted the gun but couldn’t find the sweet spot to shoot, ensuring the birds escaped unscathed.

I finished the day off with a potter through the woods on the off-chance of catching a bird or two off-guard. I reflected on how things are different up here in Scotland, with this type of crow shooting being more similar to wildfowling, where you might only get one chance at a shot, and failure seems to sting that little bit harder. I have had many days where corvids have spotted me before I get the opportunity to shoot, but this is generally overcome by hunkering down and waiting for the next bird to head into the decoys, where you can learn and make up for your mistakes.