For winter fun, try crow hunting

By Keith Sutton Published January 4, 2009 at 2:20 a.m.
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— I was amazed at how quickly crows responded to our first call.

I was hunting on a farm near the Arkansas River with Joe Mosby of Conway and David Settlemoir of Little Rock. We heard a few crows in the distance as we set up to hunt, but none were visible. When I turned on my fighting crows tape, however, the response was immediate. Scores of crows began leaving the woods and flying our way. Quickly, cawingcrows were swarming our treetop owl decoy.

When several crows were within range, the shooting began. I dropped one crow, then another, as did my hunting partners. The crows were so intent on harassing the owl, the first shot didn't frighten them away. Several continued their noisemaking, and those met their maker as well.

Before the crows wised up, we had killed a dozen, and I found myself hooked on crow hunting, a sport that until that day had been as unfamiliar tome as hunting tigers in India.

Crows are beneficial consumers of harmful insects and important scavengers, helping clean up roadkill, dead fish and other carrion. Unfortunately, crows also are destructive to crops like pecans and corn. And because they have a fondness for eggs and nestlings, in areas where they are especially numerous they may seriously impact populations of gamebirds, songbirds and herons, making it necessary to control their numbers. Hunting them offers a means of control and afirst-rate challenge for sportsmen.

Some hunters learn daily flight patterns as crows travel between roosts and feeding areas and then set up beneath flight paths to take their quarry. Others drive through the countryside searching for small bands of feeding or calling crows. A quick blind then is constructed, or the hunter conceals himself in some other manner. Then the calling begins.

Electronic and hand callers both are used. Each has a place in crow calling, and their use often overlaps.

Hand callers are inexpensive, easily carried and easily mastered. Picking from the many models is a personal choice, but avoid "windy" callers that require lots of air to blow. Crow hunting requires extended calling with high volume. A windy caller will wear you out. Also, look for callers with a movable rather than fixed reed. This allows tuning to produce sounds from the high falsetto of young birds to the guttural rasps of old-timers.

Electronic callers, which play compact discs or cassettes, canproduce the sounds of multiple crows simultaneously. Your hands aren't busy when shooting time comes because the caller can be turned on and left alone. The sounds played are the ultimate in realism. Novice hunters can experience fun results immediately with these units.

If you use a hand caller, practice variations of the two basic call types - friendly and fighting. Each has subtle variations that make it effective for a particular setup or situation. Having a veteran caller teach you is the best way to learn, but instructional videotapes and CDs also are available.

Using an electronic caller is easy. Insert the proper tape or CD, then turn the caller on. Carry fresh batteries and you can call crows continuously for hours.

Decoys focus a crow's attention away from the hunter. Two types - silhouette and fullbody - frequently are used, often together.

If you intend to set up a "crow versus owl" scene, you'll also need an owl decoy. Most resemble the great horned owl. Some are made full-body style in hard plastic, others in cardboard silhouettes with photorealistic owl imprints.

Friendly and fighting decoy setups are commonly used. The friendly setup mimics a group of foraging crows and should be placed where crows might normally feed such as a field, orchard or dump. Place a few decoys high in tree branches to give your setup long-range visual appeal and to simulate the crows' natural habit of posting sentries. Feeding decoys on the ground should be randomlyspaced about 30-35 yards from your stand. Most hunters use as many decoys as possible to simulate a large feeding group.

The fighting setup simulates a crow-owl conflict. An artificial owl is positioned on a fence post, the top of a small tree or a long pole, so every crow nearby can spot it. Unlike the friendly setup, position most decoys above the ground in surrounding trees and brush. In a real fight, crows usually sit in surrounding trees to scold the owl.

When you begin hunting, avoid t hese common mis - takes:

◊Over-hunting an area. Crows are smart; they remember. It may be tempting to constantly revisit an area where you had a great shoot, but if done too often, the birds get call shy. Scout several good areas, then "leapfrog" from one to another to avoid problems.

◊Not being properly camouflaged. Crows easily detect colors, shapes and silhouettes that are out of place. Wear complete camouflage - body, head and hand - that matches your surroundings.

◊Premature cessation of calling. Some hunters cease calling as soon as shots are fired, thinking the crows will leave as soon as shooting begins. Though this is sometimes the case, crows sometimes get so worked up, they'll return to the decoys again and again if you keep up a steady stream of calls, even during gunfire.

◊Calling with too much volume. Some electronic calls can be cranked up to produce a tremendous call volume when needed. This can be helpful when trying to get the attention of distant crows, but too much volume can be detrimental when birds approach. Reduce the volume to a "normal" level as the crows move in your direction.

◊Leading birds too far. Crows typically move slower than other gamebirds, and many first-time shooters tend to lead them too far when shooting. Normally find your target with a beak-length lead after the crows enter the decoy zone.

◊ Not carrying a spare caller or batteries. Calling with a hand caller requires lots of blowing and usually a lot of spit. This causes reeds to stick or freeze up, especially during periods of extreme cold. Always have a spare caller hanging around your neck in case of a failure. Carry spare batteries and a spare calling tape for electronic callers.

The more you learn about the various nuances of crow hunting, the better hunter you'll become. But even beginners can be successful at pursuing these abundant rascals. Only a few basic items of equipment are necessary, and none are hard to use. The sport is challenging and simple at the same time and will help hone your calling and shooting skills.

Best of all, crows are abundant and huntable throughout Arkansas. When you've tried crow hunting, you'll be glad of that. Because once you're hooked, like me, you'll want to go crow hunting as often as you can.

EATING CROW My friends often look at me like I am insane when they watch me

prepare crows for the table. I admit, the first time I contemplated

this task, I was a bit unsettled at the prospect of eating crow. I had

already eaten my share of it in the metaphoric sense, and none

of it tasted good. But real crows actually are quite good when

properly prepared, and this recipe is one of my favorites.

Smothered Crow Breast With Rice

12 crow breast fillets

Black pepper

Paprika

1 cup flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup white wine

1 (10-1/2-oz.) can cream of chicken soup

1 box Chicken Rice-A-Roni Season crow with pepper and paprika. Dredge in flour. Fry

slowly in butter until golden brown. Remove crow and pour off

half the drippings. Saute onion and green bell pepper in the same

skillet until tender. Place crow fillets back in the skillet on top of

the onion and pepper. Add wine and soup, cover and simmer 45

minutes. While this cooks, prepare the Rice-A-Roni according to

package directions. Serve the mixture on a bed of Rice-A-Roni.

Serves 3 to 6.

ARKANSAS CROW HUNTING

In Arkansas, as in other states, crows are regulated as migratory game birds. The hunting season in the Natural State runs through Monday, Feb. 23, statewide. There's no limit on the number of birds that can be killed by hunters, but hunting is allowed only on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of each week.

Crows may not be hunted with rifles or pistols larger than .22-caliber rimfire or with muzzleloaders larger than .40 caliber unless a modern gun or muzzleloading deer season, bear season or coyote season is open.

Crows may not be hunted with shotguns using rifled slugs or shot larger than T shot, and they may not be hunted over bait.

None Keith Sutton can be reached at .