Crow Calling March Madness
By Troy Hoepker
As the upland and deer seasons fade in the rear view mirror hunters are left with the question of, “What are we going to hunt now?” Coyotes are always on the radar this time of year but if you prefer wing shooting, there is one wise and crafty adversary flying around our Iowa landscape that is in season. Iowa’s crow season lasts from January 14 until March 31, 2021 and offers exciting shooting that differs from upland wing shooting or migratory waterfowl shooting.
If you’ve never experienced a crow hunt or don’t know where to start, begin with the obvious; finding crows. Roost locations, flyway areas and food sources are all at the top of the list. Crows will regularly roost in cedar and pine groves that offer plenty of protection from the weather. I don’t hunt right on top of a good roost site but rather a fair distance away from it. The aim is to draw the crows out and shoot them as they approach and I’ve found that calling to these dense groves can be productive at all times of day. Groves like that aren’t the only places to try however.
A run and gun method is also effective for killing crows and one most hunters employ. Simply driving the roads in search of small bands of crows feeding or listening for calling sounds can lead to targets of opportunity. Cattle pastures and feedlots always seem to have a few crows hanging around. So do freshly mowed fields and road kill carcass sites. Pay attention to those places and crows usually aren’t far. I like the run and gun method for covering a lot of ground in a day’s time and getting in lots of shooting. Every spot won’t always be effective so finding spots near crows where you are able to set up quickly keeps you moving on to the next spot in a timely manner. Depending on the terrain and amount of cover in the area, you may need to move a couple of miles between spots to find fresh ears.
Once a murder of crows has been spotted, figure out a plan of attack. Finding cover for yourself is the first priority, getting there undetected is the second priority. You may have to park a distance away and walk around the hills to conceal your movement. The crows will respond to sound but they won’t come if they see your approach. Crows have exceptional eyesight and they’ll spot anything out of place so camouflage is a must. I’d strongly endorse using a facemask since crows can pick out color, disarranged shapes or movement from afar. Conceal yourself under a tree or get tucked into the weeds and brush the best you can. I often sit or squat in a brushy spot that hides me until it’s time to shoot and then I can rise and fire when the time comes. Be careful not to bury yourself into your surroundings so much that you can’t maneuver or find an open lane to shoot. You must have a shooting lane.
Consideration should be taken in the location of your ambush sight for other things as well. Place your caller within gun range as crows will circle right overtop of it. One of the most common mistakes new crow hunters make is setting up under trees that are way too tall. Don’t select the nearest thing resembling a giant sequoia to sit under. When crows commit to come in, they are going to float over the area just above the treetops usually. The taller the tree, the longer the shot, so help your load range and consider the height of the trees around you. Trust me there’s nothing more frustrating than triumphantly calling in tons of crows, none of which you can hit because their cruising altitude is similar to a 747.
The use of decoys isn’t always needed to kill crows but they can add confidence and realism to any crow hunting set. Put a crow decoy or two on the ground several yards from your caller and hang decoys in a tree nearby as well. Decoys on the ground are good for bringing crows to a feeding situation or gathering. An old crow hunting partner of mine would take a wire clothes hanger and attach it to a crow decoy and then drape black cloth he’d cut for wings over the hanger. I don’t know how many crows we killed with those decoys hanging in the trees but the realism they created worked like a charm. An owl decoy sitting on a fencepost overlooking the scene is another surefire way to fire up any group of territorial crows when trying to simulate a fight scene. Make the owl’s position obvious to any responding crow. Keep your decoys off the ground when using an owl decoy. No self-respecting crow, not to mention any crow that wants to live, would find himself sitting on the ground when an owl is on scene. Use fight sounds when using an owl decoy.
Mouth calls and electronic calls each can be effective. I like to use a mouth call along with an electronic caller. Just like calling predators, mouth calls suit the individual situation better whereas electronic calls have the benefit of being able to combine sounds or create multiple sounds. The electronic caller can provide the naturalism of sound when a flock is gathering. The mouth call can guide a crow to where you want it and then coax it back using the right vocalization for the setting. As smart as crows are, there are times they can seem pretty stupid too. I’ve seen as many as 100 crows circle and congregate in the air directly over a caller with zero decoys with you sitting in plain sight. They can whip themselves up into a brazen frenzy that can be quite an awe-inspiring sight to be in the middle.
Imitating a crow fight can seemingly bring crows in from the next county. I like to use the crow/owl fight or crow/hawk fight sound on the electronic caller. These sounds seem to produce the large gatherings you’re looking for as a hunter. Crows build strength in numbers and when listening to those large groupings sound off you’ll hear all types of vocalizations from crows themselves. From high-pitched to low-pitched, all crows have different voices and you can really learn what sounds they use in different situations for future use against them.
A crow in distress call can be used when you’ve already fired at crows and they’re on the way out. A pathetic, pitiful cry of a companion can work very well. Your electronic caller maybe label sounds in this category as “Dying Crow” or “Crow Death Cry.” It’s also worth a try when you’ve tried bringing in hung up crows to other sounds and failed. Even when crows are hung up, changing sounds and getting one crow to commit sometimes leads to more crows slowly responding. It may take some time for reluctant crows to gather but distress is one of those sounds that can finally get under the skin of even the most stubborn crow.
Crows are famous for sending a lone sentinel to look things over before the whole murder commits to coming. If that sentinel sees something it doesn’t like it’ll alarm the whole murder back in the trees that something is amiss. If the first bird to arrive approves of your set, he’s sure to have company show up soon.
It doesn’t take a heavy game load to bring down a thinned skinned crow especially if you’re shooting crows that really bite on the decoys. I prefer 6-shot out of a modified choke in general however I will change loads depending on the situation. You never know until the crows show up how far your shot will be so with that being said, I like a load that will be the best universal load from 20-55 yards. The most common cause for an unsatisfactory shoot is usually because you couldn’t reach out and touch them. Therefore, I usually always screw in a modified choke at a minimum. From there you can vary your shot size depending on how well crows are responding. There are days when a 7 ½ or 8-shot small game load or trap load can drop crows’ fine whereas there are also days when leery crows seem to float at the edge of that effective range. For those days, I’m not afraid to slip in a 5-shot, 2-¾ inch shell or even screw in a full choke. There is something satisfying about dropping a crow that thinks he’s out of danger.
Pick out a single crow and avoid the flock shooting mentality. If you’re with a partner I like to wait until there are plenty of targets within range before firing. You can switch really quickly between targets that are in range and hope to drop multiple birds. Crows fly erratically and not always in a straight line so I like to apply a very quick pass though technique when aiming and firing. Lastly, crows have good memories and become call shy when overhunted.
Crow hunting can be a blast and on a good day you can really go through a lot of shells, providing good wing shooting practice. Try some of the techniques in this article to make the sky turn black with crows. If it doesn’t work, I guess I’ll be the one eating crow!