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The recent three day weekend provided me the chance to hunt with some friends that I hadn’t had the opportunity to hunt with, since the lake we waterfowl hunt had frozen over with at least two weeks left in the season. The duck season has ended and I’m not having any luck with Canada geese. Goose season is about to close and the snow geese haven’t got here yet, so crows are the only winged game in town. We knew that it would be tough as the crow season has been open since the 1st of November, and even if the crows hadn’t received much hunting pressure, they still are more wary during the waning end of the season, which ends on March 3rd. We had a good time, but without leaf cover it was hard to hide our movements when we took the shots and crows can get away quick if they get spooked. So the two options were to raise your shotgun before they arrived within shooting distance or wait until they were in range and throw your shotgun to your shoulder and snap shoot. The two hunts I went on netted us about the same numbers on both hunts. There were a number of crows that came in almost too close and other crows that stayed out of range and simply yelled at us. Hiding in thick cover often made it difficult to pick the opening where you could shoot.
Crows are fun to hunt and they can be challenging or easy which all depends on the crows themselves, if you have everything else worked out. Early in the season, the hunting may be easier as the population has younger birds who do not know it all, but think they do. Those younger birds can be more aggressive when coming to your call, while late season crows may be a little more skittish about just dropping right in. But I have seen late-season crows dive on the decoy spread as though it were the first time they have ever been called to. You never know how the day is going to go until you hunt that day. As winter settles in, I see that the crow murders (the name for a group of crows) grow larger as they all tend to roost in Keokuk and fly out together in search of that ever important food, instead of being scattered all over the place. That is both the good news and the bad news. Like waterfowl hunting, I would rather have more opportunities at smaller bunches of ducks than have them all come in at once and scare them all out with one volley. The action can be fast and furious the first half an hour of shooting, but we have better luck in taking birds a little later in the morning when they come in one or two at a time. They seem to be looking for fellow crows rather than already being in a group.
As far as how we change things for late-season crows, it’s not a whole lot different than anytime you hunt crows. I suppose that camouflage takes on a great deal more importance. So besides head to toe camouflage, facemasks are also required. As I have stated in the past, there used to be a time when I thought my beard helped in hiding my face a little. But in those days my beard was brown with just a little grey. That is not the case anymore since time has made my beard almost white. So as much as I hate facemasks, I am forced to use one especially for those late-season crows. At a couple places I hunt for those late-season crows, we get there a little earlier than we used to in order to construct some individual blinds to help hide us. You cannot beat getting down into a small brush pile to sit, as you can move more without being detected. At least you can turn around more with your feet and legs without being seen. If you haven’t got a brush pile handy where you hunt, than use whatever you can find to build a blind. This can mean dragging limbs up or horseweeds to break up your form. I like the blind to have a front and back to it as you can hunker down when birds are approaching and still be somewhat hidden when they circle around behind you.
As I have said countless times over in the past 34 years of writing, birds like crows and waterfowl prefer landing into the wind. Getting a crow to land is not your goal, but getting them within shooting distance is, and the wind plays an important part of that. So if the wind is in the south then have your blind facing the north as they will circle around and come in going into the wind. I also like to have the majority of decoys to either my left or right if possible as the approaching crows will be looking past my location. Sometimes if the majority of the decoys are in front of you the crows will hang up over them before coming into range. But having said that, you have to go with what the location has to offer and sometimes perfect decoy placement isn’t possible.
On each hunt there will be crows that commit whole-heartedly, and for those crows a modified or improved cylinder in your shotgun works quite well. But sometimes late-season crows may circle over top your decoy spread without closing the distance. They may be forty yards up and perhaps a little less, but they are still a ways up. For those crows, a full choke works. But there isn’t time to change chokes while crows are working your spread, so if I were to pick one choke it would probably be the shotgunning workhorse choke tube and that would be modified. My shotgun choice might be the one thing that I use that doesn’t quite fit in. Instead of taking my camouflaged Browning A5 with my choice of choke, I pack along my over and under. The old Winchester 101 has fixed choked barrels. One is full and the other modified. I have taken a number of crows who stayed up at what they thought was a safe distance and my full choke folded them. They are not that tough of a shot to take as they are normally just hovering over the decoy spread. This makes them a lot easier target than those diving crows that seem to be breaking the sound barrier! My first shot will be the modified barrel and this will be followed up by the full choke. It also works very well if I miss the first shot and the crow is hauling tail in the attempt to escape, but still within range. I also used to shoot number 6s on late-season crows, but in the world we find ourselves in now, you’re lucky if you can find ammo, let alone be picky about what you buy. So I’m using 7 1/2s on my crow hunts now.