Autumn harvest crow control

The autumn maize harvest is a great time to crack on with crow control, which Mat Manning proves as he enjoys a memorable session on the stubbles

Every once in a while you get a session that really goes to plan, and that was certainly the case with one of my recent outings after corvids. The field I was targeting contained the remnants of a maize crop and the birds had descended on the scraps of corn left behind by the forage harvester.

With autumn drillings set to be planted in just a few days, the farmer was eager to bring the pests to book before they had a chance to turn their attention to his seed.

This scenario is usually best tackled with a shotgun as it enables you to take birds on the wing, and even if you miss, the noise you create will drive the birds away from the field.

The problem was that this particular field is very close to some cottages and the farmer didn’t want to upset his neighbours. With stealth and discretion a top priority, an airgun foray was the obvious solution.

I had already had a reasonable session targeting the pigeons, but they now appeared to have moved on to pastures new, leaving crows, rooks and jackdaws to plunder the remaining scraps of maize.

With woodies now seeming like an unlikely prospect, I decided to tailor my approach to focus on the corvids which apart from giving the next crop a better chance to flourish would also improve the prospects for nesting songbirds.

Mat quickly weaves a basic hide around the trunk of a handily positioned tree

The windless conditions were perfect for the air rifle, and I was delighted not to have a breeze to contend with as the sitty tree I was planning to target was a good 35m from my hide site. Aside from being a little further away from the target area than I would really have liked, the location for the hide was excellent.

A large tree in the middle of the field provided a brilliant backdrop while the remaining foliage on its lower branches draped down to provide overhead cover. The site was also a bit higher up the sloping field than the sitty tree, which helped to flatten off the angle of my shots.

With birds already circling I quickly positioned my hide poles and draped a couple of camouflage nets to create a screen. There was no time to mess around dressing them with foliage; the additional disturbance would have unsettled the birds and I was perfectly happy with how well it blended in with the tree.

Once I had the hide up I quickly put out my decoys in a fairly random pattern that stretched out into the field from beneath the sitty tree. My hope was that my decoys would convince the birds that it was safe to return to the field and that incomers would pitch in the tree for a closer look. The top section of the tree is more or less dead, so I expected to get very clear shots at birds pitched in the bare uppermost branches.

I treated myself to a new set of full-bodied and shell flocked decoys from Jack Pyke, and I have to say that I am extremely impressed with them. Apart from being light and easy to carry, the shell models feature a spring in their peg which enables them to rock in the breeze.

It hardly needs any wind to get them moving if you extend the spring to its longest setting and the motion does a great job of attracting the attention of passing crows. My pattern consisted of eight shells along with three full-bodied decoys, which have an extremely convincing silhouette.

After setting up the decoys, I settled into the hide, loaded up and put on my head net. Even with a hide for concealment, corvids have eyesight that is sharp enough to spot the slightest flash of pale skin through netting. These birds are always ultra-wary and tend to shy away if they spot anything that might signal danger, so it usually pays to keep your face covered when targeting them.

My concealment and decoy setup were clearly up to scratch, as a single carrion crow circled once over the pattern before swooping into the sitty tree less than five minutes after I’d made myself ready.

Waiting with the gun already leaning on my Trigger Sticks, I hardly had to move to get a bead on it. With the range just beyond my zero distance, I settled the crosshairs so they just skimmed the top of the crow’s head, aiming to either hit it in the skull or land a strike to the neck if the pellet dropped more than expected.

I touched off the trigger and the quiet ‘pap’ from my gun’s muzzle was followed by a loud ‘thwack’ as the pellet found its mark, sending the crow tumbling through the branches and into the undergrowth.

Mat gets ready to take his chance as the crows home in on the decoys

Scoring a clean kill with my first shot was especially satisfying, as I was trying out a new combo, and though I had put in plenty of range time to familiarise myself with the setup, it’s reassuring to see it all come together in the field. The new combo came about after Hawke sent me the 4.5-14×44 model of their new Sidewinder 30 SF scope. 

Hawke scopes have never let me down, and they have a remarkable ability to deliver a performance that exceeds their price tag. And luckily for me, this one was no exception. 

I paired it with a .177 calibre BSA R-10 TH via a sturdy set of Sportsmatch mounts and although I tend to rate function over form I have to say that it’s a great-looking setup; there’s something very purposeful about the R10’s classic styling and I really appreciate the fact that it looks like a traditional sporting airgun rather than something from a Sci-Fi film. More importantly, the R-10’s trigger is excellent, it’s also quiet and very accurate – as it had just proven to that first crow.

As is so often the case when targeting corvids, the first kill produced an angry response, and several raucous birds were soon swooping and squawking overhead. Three or four particularly agitated jackdaws soon pitched into the sitty tree and I managed to drop one from its perch.

The disturbance sent the others flying away, but they simply joined the angry mob circling above the decoys and I managed to nail another one that made the mistake of landing before the rest of the flock realised that danger was lurking and backed away.

The section of the field where I had set up is right beneath a busy flightline the corvids use to travel between the woods and their feeding grounds. This alone would ensure fairly steady shooting, but the added attraction of the maize stubble resulted in some really hectic action and the shots just kept coming. 

After little more than an hour my tally was approaching double figures and I decided to break cover so I could tidy up the carnage beneath the sitty tree and add the shot birds to my decoy pattern.

Leaving the hide is something I usually try to avoid when targeting wary quarry, but with a few casualties lying belly-up in the dirt, I was concerned that incoming birds would become suspicious.

Nothing looks more convincing than the real thing when it comes to a decoy pattern, so after retrieving the shot birds I arranged them amongst the artificial flock, propping their heads up on the stiff maize stalks to give them a more lifelike appearance.

A pair of rooks flapped into the sitty tree just moments after I’d slipped back into the hide. I lined up on the one that offered the clearest shot, but managed to fluff it with a clean miss over the top. The near-silent muzzle report went unnoticed and I cycled the R-10’s bolt and managed to drop the unsuspecting bird with my second attempt. Its mate did the sensible thing and cleared off.

Successful decoying often means hauling a lot of gear, but on this occasion it was worth the effort

Activity gradually slowed down as the afternoon drifted into evening, but I was kept occupied by a steady trickle of crows, rooks and jackdaws. Things then turned very quiet as the light began to fade – probably because the birds had drifted back towards their woodland roosts – but I had managed a very respectable bag of 16 corvids by then.

Crows and their brethren seldom give themselves up easily, and I was delighted with how the session had turned out. The only downside was that this sort of decoying requires a significant amount of kit, and I still had to pack it all away and lug it back to the car.

The overburdened yomp across the fields always feels easier after a successful outing though, and I’ll certainly be going back for more when the new crop has been drilled.

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