Besides calling, the best thing you can do to increase your success at attracting crows is to use decoys. There are many variations on the theme of decoy placement, and each veteran crow hunter has his own special pattern. However, the methods discussed here are a good foundation to developing your own special technique (also see Advanced Techniques). Basically there are two types of decoy setups that can be used when hunting these birds, the Friendly and the Fighting setups.
The Friendly setup is used to mimic a group of feeding and foraging crows going about their business. This type of display should be placed at a location where crows would normally be found feeding, usually in a field, orchard or dump. If there are any trees nearby, put a few up as high as you can in the branches to give your setup a long range visual appeal, as well as to simulate the crows natural habit of posting sentries. The feeding decoys can be randomly spaced and should be as far out in the field as possible and still be within gunning range, about 30-35 yards. DO NOT put decoys around your blind, giving the birds a reason to stare in your direction. The number of decoys that should be used here varies based on personal preference and terrain. However, this is the setup that you would want to use your "Full Spread" on, putting out as many decoys as possible to simulate a group that has found a feast. If you only have a few decoys, don't despair! Your handful of decoys can be added to with a few dead crows once the shooting begins.
The Fighting setup, which is by far the most popular, attempts to simulate a situation where the crows are in conflict with something, either a raptor such as an owl or hawk, or even other crows. Here is where the crow hunter gets to use his "Ace in the Hole", the owl decoy. Crows attack and chase all raptors, but have a special hatred for the Great Horned Owl. Although it is no longer in practice, hunters of the past would use live owls and even staked out tomcats to attract crows. Today, you can do almost as well with the proper use of an artificial owl. The key to properly using an owl decoy is to position it so that every crow in the vicinity can spot it. A fence post, the top of a small tree, or even on a 10 - 20 foot pole works well; the more obvious the better. Upon seeing the decoy, most crows will make a bee-line straight for it. Unlike the Friendly setup, position most of your decoys in the surrounding trees and brush. Although some ground level decoys are OK, a real owl-crow fight finds the bulk of the crows that are not flying in the surrounding trees scolding the owl. In fact, some experts never put a crow decoy anywhere lower than the height of the owl.
Proper location, well thought out blind setup, and good camouflage are all important, but the true art of crow hunting is in the calling of crows. There are many variables that go into proper calling, but one thing is for sure, a knowledgeable caller can consistently call in and bag many more crows than a novice. So it pays to educate yourself and practice this skill if you hope to routinely be the most successful at this sport. Also keep in mind that specific calling techniques are a personal thing, even among the Crow Busters Staff. What works well in one situation and one location may completely flop in another. Basically, there just isn't any substitute for field experience and trial and error when it comes to mastering the art of calling crows. With that in mind, this section will cover some of the basic calls and calling techniques. For a more advanced look at crow calling see Advanced Techniques.
Which works best, Electronic Calling or Hand Calling? The debate may never be settled. However, it is important to understand that this is not an either/or decision. Both work well at times and both will call crows, but using them together can be extremely effective and can make you a more flexible crow hunter.
Using an Electronic Caller is not difficult, and with the selection of commercially made sounds available, a beginner can take the calling sounds of a Master Crow Caller to the field with him. An electronic caller can produce combinations of sounds, such as multiple fighting crows, that cannot be duplicated by a single hand caller. They also don't get fatigued after a long morning in the blind. The down side is that an electronic caller doesn't really talk to the crows, it talks at them. This failure to actually have a conversation with a crow can possibly be limiting and sometimes reduces the flexibility a crow hunter may need.
Hand Calling is where crow hunting becomes an art, on a level with other types of game calling such as waterfowl or turkeys. An experienced hand caller can talk a crow right into the decoys and then coax him back again even after being shot at. A hand call takes a little practice to master, but the benefits are well worth the effort, giving the crow hunter access to all the calls in a crows repertoire.
To use a hand call effectively, place the call between your thumb and index finger, forming a cup around the end of the call with both hands. The opening and closing of these cupped hands works to regulate the amount of air being exhaled. Just blowing into a call like a party favor is not enough to realistically imitate these birds. You must bring the air up from your diaphragm, as if you are clearing your throat, creating a growl.
Crow calling falls into two main categories, Friendly or Fighting, with many variations on both. Fighting calls are used in situations were crows are in conflict. These would include the Fight Call, Rally Call and Distress Call. Friendly calls such as the Attention Call and the Look Here Call reflect more of a tone of recognition and welcome. The Danger Call does not fall into either category but is a call that every crow hunter should be aware of.
The Danger Call
This call is included here simply because it is the one call that you want to avoid. Probably most hunters and certainly all crow hunters have heard this call when afield. This is a series of rapid, high pitched staccato calls, "CAW-CAW-CAW". Most often you will see a crow high up in a distant tree sounding this call to every other crow in the area. Your chances of successfully calling crows in at this point are severely reduced. Naturally, this is a call that you should avoid producing.
This call is the crow's way of saying, "Hey guys, over here, something's up!", This call is easily made by repeating "CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW CAAAWWW" in an enthusiastic way. Once the birds respond and move in your direction, you can them begin whatever additional call sequence you choose.
A good analogy would be to compare a flock of crows to a 50's street gang, they are always ready to rumble. Born trouble makers, crows cannot help themselves when it comes to the possibility of a group fight with an enemy, whether it be an owl, hawk, fox or house cat. These types of fighting sounds can draw in large groups of crows and keep them so fired up that they will ignore gunfire that is dropping their fellow companions. Therefore, it is one of the few calls that is required learning for any new crow hunter. To create this sound, the caller makes loud growling sounds mixed with high pitched screeches, in a frenzied manner. Multiple callers are a big help when it comes to using this call. For the beginner, this is where the electronic caller can really help, producing the sounds of multiple crows of various pitch. Most of the commercial sounds available such as "Fighting Crows", "Crow and Owl Fight" and "Crows and Hawk" all utilize a variation on this theme.
This sound is meant to imitate the call of a crow that is hurt and cannot get back to his companions. The crow is saying "Hey guys, I'm hurt, you wouldn't leave me would you?". This call is often extremely effective when crows are leaving the stand after a hot and heavy battle under fire. The pleading of an injured comrade is enough to turn some or all of the flock around for another pass. This should be a weak drawn out imploring call, the more pitiful the better. You'll know it's right when you start to feel sorry for the crow you are imitating. Commercial sounds for this call are usually labeled "Death Cry of a Crow", "Crow in Distress" or "Dying Crow". You will also hear this sound mixed into most of the fight tapes.
A curiosity/attention call, this call tells the crows that something interesting has been found and you had better investigate. Once crows move closer, you can follow up with fighting crows or a crow in distress sound. Usually this call will solicit an answer from crows in the area.
Basically a confidence/attention type call, this call should be made by repeating a couple of quick "CAW-AW, CAW-AW" sounds at medium volume. It should be used sparingly and then followed up with other excited calls as the crows approach.
In summary, the calls described above are just a peek into the complex language of the ordinary crow. Learning the proper combination and timing of the various crow calls is the real challenge of being a successful crow hunter. Again, there is no substitute for practice and actually trying your calling technique in front of the true judges, the crows themselves. Good luck.
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