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Beginner Techniques - Guns & Gear

Firearms & Ammo

One of the great things about crow hunting is that it gives you a chance to keep your reflexes honed during the off season. With this in mind, it's only natural that you would choose your favorite field gun for hunting crows. Or perhaps you would like to test your new trap or skeet gun in the field. Any shotgun can be used to hunt crows, but remember, all guns are not created equal when it comes to hitting these tricky targets.

12 GaugeA 12 gauge is the most popular firearm for crow hunting, bar none. A 20 gauge can be effectively used and is more economical, but the smaller the barrel diameter, the more you will tend to handicap yourself in the field. Any action type will work, but the very nature of crow hunting means you'll be shooting at multiple targets, so having more than one shell in the magazine can be a big advantage. A reliable semi-automatic is perfect, but a good pump or even a double will do the trick. The advantage of the pump or automatic is that important third follow up shot. The only other consideration in selecting a shotgun for hunting crows is camouflage. If you are not well hidden and your gun has a high gloss finish and/or reflective surface, some effort should be made to cover or dull it before going afield.

Choke selection comes down to personal preference and field conditions. However, advancements in modern shotshell manufacturing have changed the way most experienced crow shooters feel about choke selection. The experts generally use a Modified or Improved Cylinder choke for both decoying and pass shooting crows and are experiencing kills out to 60 yards using quality shells. The tendency is for beginners to over-choke their guns and then experience disappointing results. So unless you are shooting at a lot of high fliers, stick with the more open chokes.

Both high and low brass ammo can be used to hunt crows, but high brass is not necessary. Although #6 shot has been a historically popular choice, a quality load of #7 1/2's or even #8's is all that it takes to bring down a crow and is dynamite on decoying birds. For best results, stick with the higher quality shells instead of the bargain promotional shells being sold and you will likely experience better patterns. When possible, it is always a good idea to pattern your gun/choke combination at various distances to see what works best for you. For a more detailed look at chokes and patterns for crows see Advanced Techniques.

Calls & Callers

There are basically two types of crow calls, electronic and hand held. Each have a place in crow calling and very often their uses overlap.

hand callsHand calls are inexpensive, easy to carry, and are easily mastered by most crow hunters. Most are made of plastic or some hardwood and utilize a plastic or metal reed. Picking a hand call is a matter of personal preference, but there are some features to be considered. Try to find a call that is not too "windy", meaning a call that requires a lot of air to blow. Crow hunting, unlike most other types of game calling requires extended calling with a lot of volume, and a "windy" call will wear you out in a hurry. Also, look for calls that have a movable as opposed to a fixed reed. This will allow you to tune the call to produce a range of sounds from the high falsetto of a young bird to the guttural rasp of an old-timer. Watch out for calls that have reeds that easily stick to the mouthpiece, they will probably fail in cold weather. In fact, it is a good idea to have more than one call available, since you can immediately switch over to the spare in case of a reed failure. Since it is difficult to hold a call while shooting, make sure the mouthpiece is notched for secure gripping by your teeth.

One of the greatest advancements to crow hunting was the development of the electronic caller in the late 1950's. The first models were simply portable phonographs, but they did a good job of attracting crows and allowed for hands free shooting. electronic callersThey could also produce the sounds of multiple crows simultaneously, something difficult to do with a single hand call. Since then, they have evolved into either the CD or cassette based or the latest digital based units. The CD/cassette based unit simply utilizes pre-recorded cassette tapes of various types of crow calling, but are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Your best option is the chip based digital calling systems. They have no moving parts and use a digitally recorded computer chip to produce crow sounds. These are powered by rechargeable batteries and can produce a great deal of volume. The latest digital callers also allow you to download and mix and match your favorite crows sounds from various sources for a truly customized sound library. Also, electronic callers can be combined with the flexibility of a mouth call for an extremely effective calling effort. Look for digital callers that produce a good volume that is distortion free for the most effective crow calling.


Modern crow decoys fall into two categories, stationary and motion. Both types will attract crows, but each has advantages and disadvantages and are often used together.

crow full bodied decoysStationary decoys can be either full bodied or silhouette. Full bodies decoys work best, but if cost is an issue beginners can construct silhouettes at home by tracing the outline of a crow on cardboard or thin plywood, cutting them out, and then spray painting with a solid coat of flat black. You can then glue a sharpened Popsicle stick or dowel to the decoy to be used for pushing into the dirt. Due to the fact that the color black tends to cause objects to appear three dimensional, these homemade decoys work quite well. They can be made for pennies, are easy to carry and can be quickly set up. However, they are not as durable (especially the cardboard creations) as hard plastic decoys and are difficult to use in trees. They also tend to blow over in a strong wind.owl decoy

Full bodied decoys are the most realistic and durable and set up very quickly. However, they are the most costly and bulky. Be sure to purchase the type that has the small eye hole on the top of the decoy for pulling them up into the trees when necessary. If you intend to set up a crow vs. owl scene, you will also need an owl decoy. Most commercial decoys resemble the Great Horned Owl and are made of hard plastic. All the large sporting goods retailers sell these, but often they can be found at a local garden store as well.

motion decoysMotion decoys have revolutionized the art of decoying crows and should be a part of every serious crow hunters gear. There are many types currently on the market, from wind powered to battery powered, but all have the same goal, to add some realistic movement to the decoy spread. They can be used singularly, but are best used when mixed with stationary decoys. For a more detailed breakdown of motion decoys and how they can be used, check out the Advanced Techniques section on Motion Decoys.

Miscellaneous Gear

A few additional items can be a help when crow hunting. First, you will need a heavy duty storage bag (preferably camouflage) for carrying decoys, shells, your lunch, etc. Optionally, a portable folding stool will really be appreciated when sitting in a blind all morning. A machete and/or a limb trimmer can be used to help create a natural blind and remove limbs that would restrict shooting. And finally remember to bring plastic bags to pick up any empty shells and dead crows.

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