Members of the crow family are among the airgun shooter’s most challenging adversaries – but can be outwitted as Mat Manning demonstrates during a testing hide session.
Shooting always throws up unexpected surprises and that is certainly the case here. This particular hide site was originally set up to ambush squirrels when they turned up to visit a feeding station, but it has now created a useful opportunity to thin out the corvids that are causing problems nearby.
Much of this estate is grazed by sheep, and the crows have been targeting vulnerable lambs. Add the fact that rooks, jackdaws and magpies have been making a nuisance of themselves around the poultry sheds, and there is certainly justification for keeping their numbers in check.
It just so happens that my feeding station has already attracted the attention of corvids. With a few extra tweaks, it appears that I could be able to bring some of these scavenging birds to book from this ready-made hide site.
To boost the lure of the feeding station, I am going to use decoys which I hope will really grab the attention of corvids and persuade these territorial birds to drop in for a closer look. And, because the birds have clearly developed a taste for hens’ eggs, I will also add a couple of them to the trap.
It is a lovely morning with hardly a breath of wind, which will be helpful if I need to take any longer shots. With that in mind, I am also using an FAC-rated gun, which will extend my striking distance if the crafty corvids refuse to come in close. It is likely that squirrels will still be visiting the feeder so there’s a good chance of making a mixed bag.
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.
Two days before shoot – extra concealment
Mat’s hide was originally constructed to conceal him while ambushing peanut-gobbling squirrels, but it should serve very well for corvid control too. The location is excellent because it is just inside a block of mature conifers. These dense evergreens create plenty of shade which will help to keep Mat hidden, but the site also gives him a wide view out to a stand of oaks, where he should get clear shots at incoming corvids.
Because its primary purpose was to screen Mat from feeding squirrels, the hide is just a basic blind made from a camo net and a couple of poles. Squirrels aren’t particularly wary when distracted by an easy meal so it performed the job perfectly well, but it probably won’t be enough to outwit any of the sharp-eyed corvids.
A quick visit to top up his feeders prior to the shoot provides Mat with a useful opportunity to boost the hide. The darkness of the conifer plantation already serves as an excellent backdrop and the trees create a natural roof over the top. All that’s required is a few windblown branches to give the net more body. Thickening up the cover in this way should make it much more difficult for the crow clan to clock Mat during his stakeout.
07:35 – egging them on
Although magpies and jackdaws have been showing some interest in the feeding station, Mat wants to create more of a lure to attract them and the rest of the resident corvids. A decoy arrangement tailored to appeal to their specific tastes should do the trick.
As the corvids on this patch have already been raiding the chicken houses, Mat decides to incorporate some hens’ eggs into the setup. These scavenging birds relish the opportunity to devour the contents of songbirds’ nests at this time of year, so they’d be looking out for eggs even if they hadn’t homed in on the poultry.
To ensure that the eggs don’t go unnoticed, Mat adds an imitation magpie to the scene. This eye-catching decoy should help to steer the attention of passing birds towards what appears to be an easy meal.
Even if corvids spot the setup but aren’t on the lookout for food they will probably still swoop in for a closer look at the decoy. These birds are extremely territorial, especially during the nesting season, and can become very aggressive when they spot an intruder on their patch.
07:55 – early bird
The biggest challenge when targeting members of the crow family is avoiding their pin-sharp eyesight. These birds are remarkably wary and they won’t go near a decoy setup if they spot anything suspicious or think a human is lurking nearby. Even with the cover of the hide, Mat still wears a headnet to maximise his concealment.
As with most shooting scenarios success usually lies in the preparation, and it looks as if Mat has got it right as the chatter of jackdaws echoes through the woods shortly after he settles in. The calls get closer and Mat readies himself for the chance of a shot.
A flicker through the treetops signals that the birds are closing in. One swoops through the uppermost boughs and settles on a branch towards the top of an oak. This jackdaw is very vocal and has clearly spotted the decoy, but it seems to be reluctant to come much closer.
Rather than miss the opportunity by waiting too long, Mat lines up for the shot. The bird is clearly presented at just over 35m, which shouldn’t be a difficult shot off the sticks in such calm conditions. After making a few tiny adjustments to his aim, Mat pushes through the trigger, the pellet slams home with a “whop” and a puff of feathers, and the jackdaw tumbles to the ground.
Expert tip – wayward walkers
Like so many rural places up and down the country, several of Mat’s shooting permissions have received many more visits from walkers as a result of the past year’s lockdowns.
Unfortunately, many of these people are unfamiliar with acceptable countryside conduct and believe that they can simply stray from public rights of way.
In order to avoid any accidents or misunderstandings, the gamekeeper on this estate has made some signs that Mat has placed along rides where there is no public access. These clear and polite notices help walkers to stay safely on permitted rights of way and away from where pest control is being carried out.
09:30 – added appeal
That early jackdaw got Mat off to a great start and was quickly followed by a rook. The flurry of activity doesn’t last long though, and after a very quiet hour, he feels that a slight change of tactics is required.
With so many trees around, it seems as if the birds may be passing by without spotting the decoy, so Mat is going to try something more arresting. He is adding a flapping decoy to the setup in the hope that the continual movement will attract more attention.
The decoy Mat is using is a Flightline FF6 Combo Flapper. This machine comprises a frame that cradles a dead bird and a motor that creates movement to make its wings flap. By setting up the shot rook on it, Mat hopes to really stir up any passing corvids.
The FF6 is speed-adjustable, and Mat switches to one of its slowest settings as rooks do not have a fast wingbeat. This decoy can be operated by remote control, but Mat uses it on its intermittent setting so that it flaps every few seconds.
09:50 – back in action
The addition of a flapper decoy has had the desired effect. Movement can really boost attraction and it certainly seems to have caught the eye of a passing crow.
Reluctant to bowl straight in, the bird initially hangs back, wheeling above the treetops. Although Mat can’t always see the crow, its croaking calls confirm that it is nearby and certainly suggest that it has taken an interest in the decoys.
The crow suddenly swoops down and lands in the uppermost branches of an oak. Although extremely curious, this bird is clearly still on high alert and is refusing to keep still.
Mat does his best to track the skittish crow in his sights as it hops from branch to branch, and just about manages to keep it framed in the picture through his Zeiss Conquest V4 scope. The bird’s attention is fixated on the decoys and although it is extremely twitchy, it remains completely oblivious to Mat’s presence.
After a few moments of hopping from perch the perch, the inquisitive crow makes the mistake of lingering a moment too long on an exposed branch. Mat grabs the opportunity and quickly settles the crosshairs on the bird before snuffing it out with a wallop to the chest.
11:05 – chipping away
Two more crows and another jackdaw fall for the trap and, although a couple of other birds show some interest in the decoys, they refuse to flight in for a closer look and the final hour turns out to be a fairly slow one. After about three hours in the hide, Mat is eager to stretch his legs so he draws the session to a close and clambers out to pick up the shot birds and pack away the decoys.
It hasn’t been a bumper morning by any standards, but Mat is pleased to have accounted for three crows, two jackdaws and a solitary rook, although he was disappointed not to see any magpies. He had also expected to encounter one or two squirrels visiting the feeder, but their absence is a good sign that his efforts to control them over the past months are making a difference.
It is going to take more work to make a serious impact on the corvids, but taking out six of them is a good start. Mat will probably give this hide site one more chance, using a different decoy arrangement and maybe a caller to mix things up, but it looks like he will eventually have to move his ambush point closer to their favourite haunts if he wants to hit them really hard. A spot near the sheep or around the poultry sheds could be on the cards.
FX Impact MkII (www.fxairguns.com)
Zeiss Conquest V4 (www.zeiss.co.uk)
Sportsmatch two-piece (www.sportsmatch-uk.com)
Rangemaster Sovereign (www.daystate.com)
Flightline FF6 Combo (www.flightlinedecoys.co.uk)
Primos Trigger Stick Tripod (www.bisley-uk.com)
Ridgeline Grizzly III Jacket (www.ridgelineclothing.co.uk)
Macwet Micromesh Long Cuff (www.range-right.co.uk)