Tackling corvids to protect lambs
Booming corvid numbers were causing a farmer to be anxious about his young lambs, so Mat Manning went over to put his mind at rest
The long layoff from shooting during lockdown has been a frustrating time for many of us. Most of my shooting entails the control of grey squirrels, and it seemed difficult to justify a drive of 10 or so miles to keep my feeding stations going when we were all being told to stay at home. Consequently, for five weeks or so, my shooting was limited to using an airgun to punch paper targets in the backyard.
It was a text from a farmer friend that eventually convinced me that a proper outing would be more than justified. His farm was inundated with crows, rooks and jackdaws that had initially homed in on the silage clamps.
He explained that his maize silage was getting caked in corvids’ droppings and that the birds were starting to move into the yard, where they were stealing animal feed and defecating in feeders and water troughs. My friend was concerned about the obvious disease risk the “hundreds of birds” were posing and anxious lest they turn their attentions to his livestock just as lambing season was getting underway.
Official advice on travelling to shoot suggested that it would be perfectly acceptable for essential pest control. Although I tend to take farmers’ claims of “hundreds of birds” with a pinch of salt until I have seen for myself, it sounded as if my friend was facing a pretty serious problem. I called my local police on their non-emergency number, described the situation and pointed out that the farm was very close to my home. After asking a few questions about where I was going, what I would be doing and why, the helpful woman on the other end of the line issued me with a log number for the outing.
Shooting corvids with a shotgun
My usual weapon of choice is an air rifle because this quiet and precise tool is perfect for most pest control I undertake – usually culling grey squirrels, rabbits and rats – when discretion can be important.
This was a different task, however; apart from reducing the number of corvids, I also wanted to drive them away. A shotgun would give me the best chance of making a respectable bag and the noise was far more likely to push them off than the almost inaudible ‘pap’ of an air rifle.
I arrived at the farm around mid-morning and there certainly did appear to be a lot of birds about. There may not have been quite as many as my friend had described but the splattering of white droppings on just about every surface around the yard confirmed that they were indeed causing problems. I spooked jackdaws out from sheds and barns as I made my way around the farm, and there was no shortage of crows and rooks milling about over the silage clamps, which would be the area where I decided to target them.
It was a bright, warm day with a brisk wind that I hoped would keep the birds on the move. I picked a hide site that kept the breeze and sun to my back, with a spindly hedgerow and overgrown patch of scrub behind me. It gave me a wide arc of fire over a field where the grass was soon to be cut for silage, and over a line that the birds seemed to be using to flight back and forth between the clamps and yard.
Having some movement in the decoys gave me a real confidence boost for shooting corvids with a shotgun. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any dead birds to set up on bouncers or flappers but I did have a pecking crow decoy, which I’d picked up from the A1 Decoys stand at the British Shooting Show, and it looked pretty convincing, set on a mound of soil on the field edge.
The tall grass made life tricky when it came to getting my other half-dozen crow decoys positioned where they would be seen. I got around this by propping some of them on long pegs and by using wire to fasten the remaining two on top of fence posts where they really stood out.
In the hide
With the scene set, I made myself comfortable in the hide, loaded up my Rizzini BR110 and sat back to await the corvids’ response. It didn’t take long; less than five minutes later a solitary rook came drifting over for a closer look. I leapt up, clean missed it with the first barrel and then folded it with the second.
The bird dropped about 30 metres in front of me and I made a point of marking it very carefully as I didn’t want to have to trample the grass too much when the time came to pick up.
Jackdaws, rooks, crows
The shooting wasn’t hectic but a small group of jackdaws swooped in about 10 minutes later. I managed to pull one of them down and added another rook then a crow over the next 20 minutes or so. With a few birds on the deck, I decided to head out and retrieve them before I forgot where they had dropped. The two rooks were put onto bouncers and I set up the jackdaw on an intermittent flapper.
Back in the hide and watching the rooks bobbing enticingly in the wind, I felt a lot more confident with some real birds and proper movement in the pattern. The ruse certainly made a difference and I had a busy spell with a steady trickle of birds flighting in over the next couple of hours. Having a bit of a breeze blowing really worked in my favour as, apart from injecting some life into the bouncers, it also gave incoming birds less time to scrutinise the scene below as they winged over my set-up.
The bag was building reasonably well, though I managed to miss my fair share. I had fitted a ShotKam to the Rizzini, partly to capture some interesting video but also to see what was going wrong when I missed birds. As somebody who spends the vast majority of his shooting time behind a rifle, instructors usually pick me up for inadequate lead, stopping the gun or both. The footage confirmed them to be correct, so I know what I need to work on when shooting corvids with a shotgun.
All too soon it was time to head for home. I managed to pick 29 assorted carrion crows, rooks and jackdaws – my tally was actually closer to 40 but I was unable to retrieve some birds from the tangle of brambles behind me and one or two also disappeared in that long grass. I
It was a result that left me feeling satisfied and my mate was certainly pleased when I pinged him the news by text. “Brilliant. When will you be back?” was his reply. I have no doubt that I will be requesting another log number very soon for shooting corvids with a shotgun but I really can’t wait until things return to normal. It seems we are slowly starting to get there, in England anyway, but thousands of pest control days must have been lost due to doubt over justifying the journey, and the impact to wildlife and people’s livelihoods will surely be considerable.