Crow control – the Countryman with Mat Manning

Corvid control is a year-round job which benefits farming operations and wildlife conservation – Mat Manning heads out to tackle the scavenging flocks

Crow control is a very important job on farms and estates. These resourceful corvids are not only very efficient when it comes to making the most of easy feeding opportunities created by humans, but also have a talent for avoiding danger.

Consequently, their numbers have rocketed over recent years and the damage they cause has escalated along with their population.

Crows and their cousins cause problems by predating on songbirds and gamebirds, attacking young lambs, and by feeding on freshly drilled seeds and emerging shoots. All of these charges apply on the estate where I am shooting today because the woods are managed for pheasant shooting and wildlife conservation, and the surrounding fields are used for sheep and arable farming.

Keeping the birds in check has become an increased priority since they descended on the autumn seed drillings. The field they are raiding is too close to houses for me to target the birds on their feeding grounds with my shotgun, so I’m hoping to quietly pick them off with my air rifle as they flight back and forth between the adjacent woods.

The plan is to use decoys to steer the offending corvids within range of my hide. I’m also going to offer them a substantial meal in the shape of a dead grey squirrel which should be even more appealing than the seeds they are feeding on.

The quarry: carrion crow

PEST STATUS: A major problem for farmers, especially in the spring, crows peck the eyes from newborn lambs. They also feed on the eggs and chicks of other birds.

HABITAT: Crows have a wide range of habitat, but feed mostly around farmyards, in woodland and on crops. They favour nesting sites in tall trees either in woods or along hedgerows.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Crows are sharp-eyed and very wary of man. Getting within range usually takes a high level of fieldcraft and concealment.

13:10- Quick set up

Even when they’re taking an interest in decoys, sharp-eyed corvids remain on constant lookout for danger and will steer clear of anything that looks suspicious, so Mat is going to need a hide to keep him out of sight.

Because crows are so good at spotting anything out of the ordinary, Mat usually builds his hide a day or two before he plans to shoot. This enables him to construct a screen, incorporating plenty of vegetation and then give the birds time to recover from the disturbance before he returns with his airgun.

Today’s shoot is a little different though. It’s an unplanned session and Mat needs to get cracking as soon as possible to minimise damage to the crop.

Mat finds a spot that gives him a good view of some tall trees that the birds are using as a lookout post. Using the hedgerow as a natural backdrop to conceal the outline of the hide, he then uses poles to create a frame from which to hang his camouflage net.

The net is then draped with a scattering of vegetation from the recently flailed hedge. Mat would usually go to more trouble dressing a hide but he wants to move quickly and get out of sight before the crows become too suspicious.

13:30- Added attraction

Although he got his hide set up quickly, the disturbance of Mat’s arrival has pushed the crows away from the area he is targeting. The birds had established a flightline between the freshly drilled field and the trees, so Mat is going to use some decoys to help convince them that it’s safe to return.

Full-body flock decoys look very convincing and have a bold outline that is difficult for passing corvids to miss. Mat sets up two close to the base of the sitty trees he hopes to coax the birds into.

Corvids seem to be able to sense that harsh times are just around the corner at this time of year, so they rarely pass off an easy feeding opportunity. Obviously the birds have already taken an interest in the newly sown seeds, but Mat reckons he can tempt them back within striking distance of his hiding place by offering them something a little more substantial.

All members of the corvid family are opportunistic scavengers, so Mat is placing a dead grey squirrel next to his decoys. Passing crows are likely to think that rivals have swooped in to enjoy a meaty feast on their patch, which should be enough to encourage the territorial birds to swing by for a closer look.

13:40 – Hunkering down

Crows’ reaction to a hide and decoy setup can vary dramatically. Some days the approach will provoke a full-on mobbing while on other occasions the birds will completely ignore it. This unpredictability means you should be prepared for anything from a bumper bag to a total blank.

Knowing that there could be some long waits ahead Mat likes to make himself comfortable, and a beanbag seat is a real asset in that department. Apart from being comfy and creating a buffer between you and cold, wet ground, these seats also make for a very stable shooting platform.

Although he is shooting from within a hide, Mat knows how adept crows are at spotting hunters lurking in the undergrowth. With that in mind, he puts on a camouflage head net to give his concealment a further boost by hiding his face.

With all preparations made, Mat loads up his Daystate Red Wolf and gets ready for what could be a long wait. The outcome now depends on what the crows make of the decoy setup.

Expert tip – to call or not to call?

Crows’ reaction to a hide and decoy setup can vary dramatically. Some days the approach will provoke a full-on mobbing while on other occasions the birds will completely ignore it. This unpredictability means you should be prepared for anything from a bumper bag to a total blank.

Knowing that there could be some long waits ahead Mat likes to make himself comfortable, and a beanbag seat is a real asset in that department. Apart from being comfy and creating a buffer between you and cold, wet ground, these seats also make for a very stable shooting platform.

Although he is shooting from within a hide, Mat knows how adept crows are at spotting hunters lurking in the undergrowth. With that in mind, he puts on a camouflage head net to give his concealment a further boost by hiding his face.

With all preparations made, Mat loads up his Daystate Red Wolf and gets ready for what could be a long wait. The outcome now depends on what the crows make of the decoy setup.

14:10 – First response

As expected, a significant wait follows after Mat settles into his hide. The crows still appear to be taking an interest in the adjacent field and judging by their distant croaks they are still following a flightline along the woodland edge.

The calls of the flighting birds get closer until Mat spots a pair of crows travelling in his direction. Just as he had hoped, the birds clock the decoys and continue with their approach.

These corvids are suspicious and circle high overhead a couple of times before swooping down into the uppermost branches of an oak tree with a dead top. This is one of the sitty trees that Mat had anticipated the birds would use, and one of the crows is clearly presented within range.

Mat threads the Red Wolf’s muzzle through the hide until it is clear of the netting and vegetation. 

He then settles the crosshairs on the unsuspecting bird’s head and firmly squeezes through the trigger to send a pellet slamming into its skull. It’s an instant kill and the shot crow plummets down through the branches and wallops into the ground while its startled mate takes flight.

14:20 – Raucous response

Just because the other crow didn’t hang around to offer Mat a second opportunity, it doesn’t mean that the chance to add to the bag has passed. Losing a member from their ranks can provoke a strange reaction in crows. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it can prove to be quite a spectacle.

Mat quickly reloads and seconds after the pellet is seated in the breech, more crows are on the scene. Three birds appear from nowhere and begin wheeling and squawking above where the shot crow fell. Their cries attract even more crows and in just a few moments Mat has a flock of around a dozen agitated corvids circling noisily above him.

This strange reaction is not unusual. Mat has witnessed it countless times before. He knows that crows can completely lose their natural caution as they join the frenzy so he stays calm and readies himself for another opportunity.

Before long, two of the assembled birds peel off from the main flock and flutter into the tree the first crow fell from. Clearly agitated, they flit from branch to branch, squawking and croaking as they survey the scene beneath them.

Mat keeps a close watch on one of the birds, which eventually makes the mistake of pausing on an unobstructed branch. Mat quickly composes the shot and sends a pellet whizzing to its mark.

15:50 – Keep them coming

Mat managed to nail two more crows from the noisy mob before they wised up to the lurking danger and backed away. The next hour was a slow one, with only one more addition to the bag in the shape of a rook.

Although most of the birds Mat shot during the first part of the session fell into the undergrowth beneath the trees where they were out of sight, one has landed on its back in the open. Any crows approaching the decoys after this soon jinked away, making it very clear that the belly-up bird was alarming them.

With action at a standstill, Mat decided to break cover to retrieve the offending bird along with the others, which he then added to the decoy pattern. Plastic decoys can work well enough to fool quarry, but they will never beat the real thing.

Back in the hide after tidying up, Mat uses his crow caller to draw the attention of passing birds to the decoy setup. Calling is kept to a minimum because Mat doesn’t want to draw the suspicious corvids’ sharp eyes towards his hiding place, but it is enough to entice a few more into the sitty tree.

Mat’s efforts result in a steady trickle of shots throughout the afternoon. The final hour of daylight can often be the most productive part of the session, so Mat is well on his way to making a respectable bag of crows.

Mat’s gear

GUN
Daystate Red Wolf
daystate.com

OPTICS
MTC Mamba Lite
mtcoptics.com

SCOPE MOUNTS
Sportsmatch two-piece
sportsmatch-uk.com

AMMO
Rangemaster Sovereign
daystate.com

JACKET
Ridgeline Grizzly III Jacket
ridgelineclothing.co.uk

HIDE POLES
Sniper Hide Poles
flightlinedecoys.co.uk

DECOYS
Full Body Flocked Crow
jackpyke.co.uk

GLOVES
Macwet Micromesh Long Cuff
range-right.co.uk

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