Nought to crow about
Tom Sykes chases corvids on a Highland estate and reflects on how it differs from his standard hunting techniques
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.