The Countryman with Mat Manning

PLEASE NOTE: This edition of The Countryman was produced BEFORE the revocation of the General Licences.

Corvid control is a priority during the spring. Songbirds and gamebirds are nesting, which means an easy meal for crows and magpies, who are partial to eggs and chicks of other birds.

Although corvid predation can have a serious impact on breeding success, it is a trait that can be used against them, and Mat plans to use a fake nest to lure the would-be thieves within range.

The quarry – Carrion crow and magpie

Corvids are sharp-eyed birds, and will often sit and watch for signs of parent birds flitting in and out of a nest. They’ll then swoop in to dine on whatever they find inside, and will keep returning to feed until every morsel has been devoured.

These birds are close relations, both belonging to the corvid family. They are opportunistic scavengers, equipped with powerful beaks, and will happily steal from the nests of other birds.

Gear for a springtime corvid ambush

Concealment plays a big part when it comes to outwitting wily crows and magpies, so Mat is using a camouflage net in order to create a discreet hiding place among existing cover.

Even when using a fake nest, it often takes more to coax birds within range. A realistic magpie decoy is a useful addition to the set-up, as it attracts attention, creates an element of competition and gives incoming birds added confidence.

Just in case passing birds fail to notice his trap, Mat has taken along a crow caller. A few loud blasts to mimic the croaks of an agitated crow is usually enough to steer their attention towards the target zone.

Camo Systems Realtree Scrim

Extremely compact and lightweight, this camouflage net unfolds to create a 10’ by 7’ screen. Finished in low-glare Realtree Hardwoods Green HD to keep it inconspicuous, it’s made from a long-lasting  rot and mould-resistant and UV-treated ripstop material.

Primos Power Crow Caller

Despite being small enough to stash in a pocket, this compact caller is deceptively loud – one of the loudest on the market, in fact. It’s also very easy to use, enabling the shooter to mimic a wide variety of crow calls to really stir up the birds.

Magpie Decoy

Tough, light, and moulded in an extremely lifelike pose, this imitation magpie is a great way to attract the attention of passing corvids. It’s painted to accurately portray a real bird’s distinctive plumage, and even comes with a peg to stake it securely in position.

The previous day:
Discreet hiding place

The owner of this woodland manages the ground for wildlife conservation and pheasant shooting, and corvids’ nest-robbing habits are detrimental to both. 

A part-time gamekeeper uses Larsen traps to thin out the magpies, but he’s always thankful for any assistance Mat can provide for him.

Corvids are clever birds that treat anything out of the ordinary with suspicion, so concealment is extremely important when targeting them. Mat is building a hide to improve his chances of going undetected, and he’s constructing it in advance to minimise disturbance when he comes back to shoot.

The net that forms the main screen is set against a backdrop of natural cover to make it less conspicuous. Mat then dresses the net with branches and vegetation. 

This works to conceal any unnaturally straight edges, and helps the screen to blend in with the surrounding countryside.

14:20 – Setting the trap

Mat is targeting an area that he knows to be frequented by crows and magpies. Apart from incorporating a suitable place for him to set up a hide, the spot also has an open area where he can set out his attractor about 25m from his hiding place and in full view of passing birds.

You can use all sorts of ruses to lure corvids within striking distance, but a fake nest is one of the best during the spring. Mat twists a few stems to create the rough shape of a nest, then lays it on the ground and places two hens’ eggs into it – one of the eggs is cracked open to reveal the yolk for added attraction.

Although the fake nest should be enough to draw in scavenging corvids, Mat also sets up a decoy. The imitation bird will help to catch the eye of passing crows and magpies and should convince them that it’s safe to drop in. Seeing what appears to be a rival bird helping itself to a free meal on their patch can make territorial corvids very bold.

14:45 – Rapid response

With the bait and decoy in position, Mat slips into his hide and puts on his camouflage headnet. Corvids have excellent eyesight, so it’s very important to keep your face covered, even when shooting from behind a camo screen.

It can take a lot of patience to get results from an ambush like this, but Mat’s ruse has prompted a quick response today. The scrubby cover around his target area is often used as a nesting site by magpies, and a barrage of rattling calls shortly after he settled into position suggests that the birds are in the vicinity.

Mat sits tight, and the chatter of agitated magpies draws closer and closer until one of the birds makes the mistake of swooping into the exposed branches of a dead tree.

Looking through his scope, Mat can see the magpie clucking angrily at the decoy. He settles the crosshairs onto the little corvid and drops it cleanly with a shot to the chest.

15:55 – Calling the crows

Magpies are often encountered in groups of two or more, but Mat sees no more signs of the birds after his first chance of the session. The shot bird was killed cleanly, so Mat leaves it where it fell, rather than blowing his cover by creeping out to retrieve it.

After a long and uneventful wait, Mat decides to try using the crow caller. His intention is not so much to call birds in as to create a bit of noise that might draw their attention to the fake nest.

The caller seems to work and after 15 minutes or so there are two crows circling above the nest. A moment later, one of the birds drops into the uppermost branches of a tall ash tree about 30m away.

Crows are big birds, and it usually takes a hit to the head to kill them cleanly. It’s a tricky shot, but Mat’s confidence is boosted by the windless conditions.

He squeezes off the trigger and the pellet strikes the unsuspecting crow’s skull with a crack, sending it crashing down through the branches while its startled mate beats a hasty retreat.

16:30 – Patience pays off

Once again, Mat stays in the hide – and it proves to be a good move. Shortly after he shot the crow, another one glides in and perches among the stand of ashes. It’s a much easier shot than the last, and Mat makes another addition to the bag.

A longer wait follows, but a distant chattering eventually heralds the return of the magpies. It’s a bigger group this time and Mat counts three as they bundle in towards the fake nest.

One of them is feeling cocky, swooping straight down at the decoy to barrack it. The confrontational magpie has inadvertently placed itself right in Mat’s main killing zone, and is quickly snuffed out with a smack to the chest.

Although unsettled by the sudden demise of their mate, the two remaining birds linger. Mat gets a quick chance when one hops onto an exposed branch, but the pellet strikes a twig that was out of focus in the sight picture and is deflected off-target. The sound of the shot is enough to send the birds flapping away and Mat is left cursing himself.

17:15 – Turning in for now

The fluffed chance at the magpie turns out to be Mat’s last opportunity of the session. He sits it out for half an hour or so, and even gives the crow caller another try, but the birds simply refuse to return.

He can’t complain, though – corvid shooting is never easy and two crows and two magpies is a reasonable bag. It may only be a small reduction in numbers, but it should make a big difference to the breeding success of other birds in this area of the shoot.

But Mat’s work is not finished yet, and the hide is left in position after he picks up the shot birds. Mat reckons this spot could still yield a few more corvids, so he’s going to come back for another go at them in a day or two.

He may need to use a different attractor, though. The birds could be suspicious of the fake nest after today’s losses.

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