Darrell Gibson was whispering, talking about crow hunting, his lips barely moving, camouflaged from head to toe, blending into his surroundings, when he lifted his crow call to his lips.

"Ca, Ca, Ca, Ca, Caw, Caw, Ca, Ca Ca" Gibson growled, doing his best imitation of a group of troublemakers provoking a fight.

Several minutes later, the first bird - Gibson identified him as the "sentry" - winged in overhead to investigate.

Stepping up the volume, Gibson lured the bird within range of a motion decoy that was bouncing back in forth 20 yards in front of his hiding place.

As the bird dropped in to land in a tree above the make-believe fracas, Gibson rose from a makeshift blind and let the bird eat its fill of No. 6 lead. Twisting sharply, he fired again at a second bird that had committed to the set of foam decoys placed on the perimeter of the fight.

"We'll add these two to the spread; the flock gets bigger," he said.

Hunting for crows can be broken down into two main strategies. The first is a run-and-gun approach; hunters pick a likely feeding or congregating point and try to elicit an emotional response from whatever crows are in the area before moving to the next location. Gibson, who manufactures custom crow calls, is a fan of the run-and-gun. The type of calling that goes along with this style is an aggressive, looking-for-a-fight type call. It tells crows within earshot that a predator or intruder is up to no good and triggers the flock - which incidentally is known as a "murder" - into action.

"Aggressive calling works best in close-quarter situations, where the crows can't see you from far off," Gibson said. "With this type of hunting and calling, I like to display a motion decoy, which looks like a crippled crow hopping on the ground. Place a couple of dead crows in the spread, and you're likely to start a fight."

According to Gibson, crows are not as gung-ho as might be expected, especially if they've been hunted a good bit and figure out it's a set-up. They recognize the sight of a man as immediate danger, so even with running-and gunning, hunters have to stay camoflaged and concealed under cover until it's time to shoot.

"Crows can be cautious, but they are easily excitable and like nothing more than a fight," Gibson said. "They'll come swarming in to harass a hawk or fight off an owl. Owls are natural predators of crows."

One of Gibson's frequent hunting buddies is Greenville native Mark Thomasson. He's been an avid crow hunter for more than a decade and prefers a more subtle approach to crow hunting. Rather than call them into a fight, Thomasson likes to set up around a known food source and call crows in with a friendly approach - very similar to duck hunting.

"With the run-and-gun, you go into an area, call every bird within range, shoot for 15 to 30 minutes, then it's off to the next spot," said Thomasson. "I use what's known as a stationary method. We set up blinds, put out a spread of decoys, and use a mouth call to vocalize to each crow we see."

While electronic calls are legal, both Gibson and Thomasson prefer mouth calls.

"Crows are smart," Thomasson said. "If they've heard a recorded electronic call, the smart birds will not only shy away from it, but they'll sit out of gun range and warn other birds away as well."

Finding locations for stationary crow hunting is at least half the battle. Crows are drawn to long-term food sources, including cut-over cornfields, peanut fields, pecan groves, chicken farms and peach orchards. Since most of these locations are not on public land, it helps tremendously to have permission to hunt several likely locations.

"I have a lot of areas that I've put time into talking to the landowners and gaining permission to crow hunt," said Thomasson. "Of the three areas in the state - the Upstate, Midlands, and Lowcountry - I probably prefer the Lowcountry more simply because there are more agricultural lands there than the other two regions."

Thomasson arrives early at his chosen location to get set up. He foregoes commercially made pop-up blinds and constructs a blind out of natural materials, which he may even line with leafy fabric. The blind has to provide enough concealment to completely hide the hunters.

"The two most important things about hiding from crows is there can be nothing shiny outside the blind, not even light colors," he said. "That's why I use nothing but natural brush on the outside of the blind and only use all dark colors. The second thing, is you simply cannot move. Crows will pick up on movement and avoid the area altogether if they see something that arouses suspicion."

Decoy use will vary with the situation, according to Thomasson. If he's hunting local crows, he doesn't want a lot of "unfamiliar" decoys laying around. Another important tip is to place two sentry birds up in a tree, but not within line-of-sight of the blind.

"Other birds watch the sentry, you don't want that right over your head because you'll in effect be drawing attention to your location," he said. "Spread the rest of your decoys out on the ground in feeding fashion. Just like duck hunting, you want to leave some open areas between the birds within shooting range for the newcomers to land."

With all of the pains taken to stay hidden, use proper calling sequences and provide decoy support, it would stand to reason that crows would head for the next county after the first shot. Strangely, that's not the case. Both Gibson and Thomasson claim that crows don't recognize gunshots as danger.

"Farmers across the country use propane cannons to scare birds away," said Gibson. "It's an awful loud boom; it might move the birds off, but I've watched them flap off, then turn and come right back after one of those cannons went off."

"Dynamite, deer rifles, thunder … crows hear a lot of different loud noises, and they just don't associate being shot at with danger. I guess that's understandable, if that's the last sound the bird ever hears.

"From around Christmas until the end of January crows tend to congregate more. You'll not only have the resident birds, but the northern flocks will be migrating down. The numbers of migratory birds will depend on the weather up north. When the weather gets nasty up there, we'll get a push of crows down here."

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO HUNT - While all public Wildlife Managment Areas are open for crow hunting during small-game seasons where permitted, few public lands contain the extended food sources to attract numbers of crows. Fortunately, many farmers and landowners view crows as varmints, bent only on damaging crops.

TACTICS - Crow hunting can be broken down into two primary strategies: running and gunning and stationary, feeding-area hunting. Running and gunning involves slipping into an area and creating a ruckus via motion decoys and rally calls that simulate crows battling a predator or invader. This strategy relies on the crow's fight response to draw them into the conflict, within range of the guns. Stationary feeding is akin to duck hunting minus the water. Hunters stake out a blind near a food source, use decoys in feeding setups and call in a friendly manner to draw the crows to the gun. Crows come in at the rate of one, two, and three at a time, and shooting may last for several hours versus several minutes.

CROW REGULATIONS - A hunting license and free Migratory Bird (HIP) Permit are required to hunt crows. Crows are migratory birds, and as such, are a federally-protected species. The season is based on criteria established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The open season for crows on private lands in South Carolina is Nov. 1 - Mar. 1. There is no bag limit. During the open season on private lands, crows may be taken with any firearm, bow and arrow, or by falconry. Crow hunting on WMA lands is permitted. During the open season for small game hunting on WMAs, crows may only be hunted with weapons legal for small game. The use of electronic calls for crow hunting is permitted statewide on private land and WMA land. Crows damaging crops may be taken at any time using non-toxic shot without a federal permit.

Guides/Info - Crow Busters. www.crowbusters.com; CrowMart Super Store, www.crowmart.com; Darrell Gibson Custom Calls, 828-287-9277.

MAPS - Delorme South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 800- 561-5105, www.delorme.com; S.C. Department of Natural Resources, 803-734-3886, www.dnr.sc.gov.