"Johnny Reb in King Arthur's Court"
Imagine a Johnny Reb from North Carolina in King Arthur's courtů.Old Glory mixing with the Union Jacků in pursuit of British crows not knowing if they would "understand" either my Gibson or Turpin crow call! Truth is, there were a lot of 'unknowns'. One of our members recently wrote an excellent account of a day with Bob Aronsohn. Let me give you my account of a week with Jason and his family and seven birds considered by the English Game & Fish as vermin!
By way of background, let me say all of my hunting took place on or around hog farms. Jason had secured permission for me to hunt prior to my arrival and his "hides" held promise to produce significant numbers of crows, jackdaws, pigeons, Woodpigeons (what a fantastic bird), rooks, magpies and seagulls. They consider all of these birds 'vermin' and can be shot year round. They could all be taken from the same hide at virtually any time during the same day! I have never "zipped up" in a blind or a 'stand' not knowing which of SEVEN targets would present themselves. I smile now as I recall all of this to mind because I never knew which bird might pop into view, I had to be nimble with my fire control system. Each bird has different flight gyrations. Plus, I discovered British crows added a further peculiar twist: they did not sound or behave like American crows-- more on that later.
My activities the first day included: 3900+ miles, crossed 5 time zones (I departed Raleigh at 6:30 EDT and arrived in England at 7:05 Greenwich Mean Time), navigated customs, met Jason and his daughter, Charlotte for the first time at the airport, hopped in his diesel Peugeot for a 90 mile ride southwest of London to the historic town of Winchester, checked into a stately bed & breakfast (that was 260 years old), changed into hunting garb, got to Jason's "farm" at 2 pm, loaded and literally proceeded shooting crows within 5 minutes of exiting the car! I barely noticed I got no sleep during this first 24 hours. I was in a target rich environment and one cannot shirk from ones duties by thinking they need to take a nap! Perish the thought.
Winchester, located in southern England, is 8 miles from Romsey, Jason's hometown. With a current population of 40,000, Winchester was the capital of England in the 10th and 11th centuries and was once a Roman garrison. It is best known for the Great Hall built in the 12th century. King Arthur's Round Table resides there and it has hung in the Hall since 1463, or about 30 years before Columbus first visited America. The names of all the legendary knights are written around the edges of the table.
The birds I took on that first day had several interesting characteristics. First, the crows did not sound like "our" crows. Their voices were low and raspy, almost identical to our Ravens. Even when we shot up some flocks coming in, there was no "alarm", no excitement in their voices. Secondly, we were using a feeding setup. This was a "first" for me and there was NO calling of any sort. The birds came to feed in a steady stream and were lured into range by Jason's excellent electrically powered crow decoys. I shot all birds from Jason's "hide", that is strips of camouflage cloth strung between two 6-foot poles against the tree line with excellent effect. Crows and Jackdaws often fly (and get shot) together. The Jackdaw is about 90% the size of a crow and except for a faintly brownish head, has the same coloration, a smaller beak and makes a whistling sound not unlike a Wood Duck or Pintail. They like to fly in 'flocks', and are often erratic flyers with a strong visual resemblance to a crow.
Jason is a fine shot with a very 'natural' shooting motion. He is a dedicated crow and pigeon hunter and he knows his stuff. He shoots a Turkish (Hatsan Escort) 12 ga., uses full choke, shoots Gamebore White Gold ammo in 7.5's and wears full camo. He is also an avid rabbit hunter. First day's TBC: 101 crows, jackdaws and pigeons before supper. I have never had such a "mixed bag" on a crow hunt! End of day #1.
Let me give highlights of the six hunting days that followed, as some are jolly well worth mention.
Rained out the morning of the second day, we used that time to visit a gun store to "top-off" our ammo needs. By the time I left for home, we had only a few boxes left of our original 5 cases. We were not on an ammo conservation hunt! By afternoon the weather cleared, we dispatched 45 crows/jackdaws, all decoyed (one electric "flapper" and one electric "pecking" crow both on an electronic delayed timer) with no calling. I folded two crows with one shot -- my 3rd lifetime Scottish double. Three days later I beat my own record in a manner I could never have predicted. The BIG news for my second day was the taking of my first Woodpigeon!
The Woodpigeon is Britain's major agricultural bird pest and one of the world's most popular sporting species. It is legal to shoot all year around and makes good and cheap eating. The "woodie" is the largest pigeon, occurring both singly and in flocks and sometimes in large flocks. They are predominately gray with a white patch on each side of the neck of adults and have a characteristic broad white bar on each wing. They are the only pigeon with white wing bars and their wings tend to clatter on takeoff. With their white wing bars, they are easy to spot at great distances. For those of us who might remember, their wing bars are reminiscent of the painted white stripes on the wings of Allied aircraft used in WW II for the Normandy invasion.
On the third day we saw the Farnborough Air Show. Of special interest were British World War II aircraft: the Lancaster (a British 4-engine bomber) Spitfire and Hurricane fighters (these planes won the "Battle of Britain"), plus Russian MiGs, V-22 Osprey, the new Typhoon and Euro-fighters and the British precision flying team, the Red Arrows.
Not until the fourth day was I formally introduced to the Woodpigeon. With my Beretta 391 in hand complete with my "anointed" .020 choke tightened into place, I started thinking of Crow-Verbs; Verses #7.5 and #8's. King Arthur would be saying about now "that a great victory will be wrought on the field of honor" and all that is missing is my shinning armor and noble steed. After today I thought, I will be Sir Woody, the Pigeon Slayer of Winchester.
The afternoon of day four was just fantastic. I had noticed "Woodies" using a flight path all morning. Jason said they almost certainly would be returning on the same path in the afternoon. I positioned myself near a wood line and as Big Ben struck twice (about 100 miles away and I could not hear it.. but I just knew it was striking) I experienced some of the best and most challenging wing shooting I have ever had. It is called "flighting" or shooting the flyways.
Woodpigeon shooting is a huge sport in England and it is easy for me to see why. I slayed 71 woodies, missed tons of others, made some great shots but was mostly humiliated by this big and very fast bird. They are the "Corsair" of the pigeon breed and a powerhouse of a bird. Measuring the woodpigeon against my gun, I found the head reaches the middle of the trigger guard and the tail touches the recoil pad. This bird is twice the size of our pigeons, very evasive and tough to bring down, a formidable target indeed. Some very fine BBQ at Jason's for dinner ended this very fine day.
From this point forward in my trip, the Woodpigeon became the object of each days hunt, though we continued to kill crows/jackdaws. One quick note about Jackdaws is in order here. When I did use my crow call, the jackdaws responded very quickly, much more quickly than the crows. Jackdaws when responding, make quick tight turns to come at you with very little sound other than some of their high pitched tweeting or whistling. They are very challenging targets and interesting birds.
The weather on day five was hot for the locals but quite nice for this Southern boy. Temps were in the mid 80's with low humidity. I made more personal history mid-morning. I was in a makeshift blind that I had put together shooting crows/jackdaws and an occasional woodie. Around 10 o'clock, I heard the telltale squeaking of a bunch of jackdaws. A flock of about 20 birds had been pulled in by the motion decoys and was now overhead. I took the last bird in the flight. It tumbled into the pasture. The entire flock circled back to investigate what had happened. The flock was again in my gun range. I fired and killed two with one shot! Amazingly, the flock circled yet again. I shot again. This time three birds rolled out with a single load of #7 1/2's. A Scottish Triple? Fantastic! Finally, before the flock could escape completely, I managed to drill a straggler to make a TBC of 7 with 4 shots in about 15 seconds!!!
That ended my pursuit of crows/jackdaws for the day. After lunch, I certainly wanted to get back to some 'flighting' on my woodpigeon flyway!
Jason went home for lunch but I could not think of eating. I asked him to let me hang out at the farm and suggested he return when he could. He agreed. I got to my "position" before 1 o'clock. The action was slow and it was warm. By 3 pm I had killed only 11 woodies. Jason returned about then, took up a position 75 yards north of me just in time for the beginning of a barnburner. In the next 2 and a half hours I killed 62 more birds in some absolutely fantastic shooting. Jason added a bunch to that total. The 23 woodies I killed with my last 29 shots was easily my best shooting of the trip. They come at you like F-16's and when killed they "fall" for 50 yards. When they popped over the tree line, it was like shooting a bullet with bullets. I had a scant second or two from seeing one to pulling the trigger. As Jason puts it quite correctly "they are always on a 'mission' flying as fast as possible". He made lots of fine long shots and after a couple of them I heard him say "that was a cracker" or a good shot. I came home with several new hunting expressions.
I think I have failed to mention that my "position" was in a hog parlor. There were lots of large hogs there to keep me company. It also happened to be a breeding parlor with lots of 'activity'. It will suffice to say all the inhabitants were quite friendly with each other and hardly paid any attention to me except when a bird fell into the lot. The instant a pigeon/crow/jackdaw hit the ground it was gobbled up. On two occasions, I saw birds caught in mid-air after one bounce. The hogs also chewed some of my empty hulls and the noise of enamel against low brass ammo was quite loud. Fortunately, none were swallowed.
It was a rewarding feeling knowing I was helping feed the "locals" and to keep their strength up for the tasks at hand!!
Our next to last day was the only day we shot woodies over decoys. Jason has very effective electric motion Woodpigeon decoys as well. One can kill hundreds of woodpigeons this way on a good day (over 900 in one article I read). Although our luck was not that good, I did see how the birds decoyed readily and with full confidence. They just plow right in and land when fooled. Decoy shooting is easier than flighting. I bagged 28 birds over a wheat field in some fine action. Best memory of the day was the sudden appearance of two woodies that had slipped unnoticed into the decoys and were making a hasty escape. Simultaneous shots from both Jason and I puffed the two birds. That was either excellent teamwork or pure luck!! Either way, both shots were "crackers'.
Our last day was windy and cool. Jason had family business to tend to so I spent the day on the farms. Conditions were less than ideal but that was of no matter. I knew it would probably be the last time I would see Woodpigeons and the British variety of crow and jackdaw. I realized we had not seen any Rooks or magpies in gun range during the week but that was my luck. While I stood at the ready, I reflected on the week just passed and was very happy to relax and enjoy my surroundings. The action was slow but steady. I managed 23 crows, 21 woodpigeons and 6 'feral' or ordinary pigeons before unloading for the last time.
That evening I took Jason, Sue and Charlotte to dinner. It was a bit of an emotional night for me. My experiences there will never be forgotten and will always be appreciated. Jason has a standing invitation to visit the USA and North Carolina anytime. Although Jason has never flown in an airplane, I told him a trans-Atlantic first flight would quickly make him a veteran!
Since most all of our shooting was done in the open, I cannot wait to expose Jason to the nature of run & gun action. I admit the thought of 'sticking' Jason in a Pine thicket while wrapped up in a nice batch of red briars does produce a grin. It will be a treat for both of us!
My humble appreciation goes to Jason and his family for inviting me to come and for surviving my visit. The Queen could not have given me a warmer welcome or shown me more hospitality. Thank you Jason, Sue, and Charlotte, for your kindness and to Rob Cook who graciously let me use his 391 Beretta. I hope I did not teach it any bad manners. I returned appreciating what we Americans have more than ever. We are truly blessed.
I wish this or a similar experience for each Crow Buster at some point in your life...
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